Consumer services

‘I really struggled’: How Ontario teacher got stuck with zero credit for years – National

Angela Monaghan, a high school teacher from Tiny, Ont., Still remembers the time she went to her local Canadian Tire in the summer of 2019 to apply for a new store credit card to use for shopping related expenses. school orchestra.

The request was quickly rejected. The request was reported because, according to the credit report, Monaghan remembers a store employee saying – in a neutral way – that she was dead.

The one who was, in fact, deceased was Monaghan’s late husband, who died in September 2017 after a seven-year battle with cancer. But as Monaghan says she found out later, a misrepresentation meant she was recorded as deceased on her TransUnion credit report instead.

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Monaghan’s story is not unique. Once the credit bureaus are notified of someone’s death, they place a death notice on their credit reports, a measure that helps prevent identity theft. But erroneous death reports do occur from time to time.

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Monaghan, however, says it took her almost two years from the time she realized the mistake to be officially revived in full. And during that time, she says she had to live with a TransUnion credit score of zero.

Getting the mistake corrected, she says, was “a roller coaster ride” that left her “feeling uncertain about financial stability.”

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A ‘rare’ credit report error

Many consumers know that their credit reports should be checked regularly with Canada’s two credit bureaus, TransUnion and Equifax. Credit reports, a detailed history of a consumer’s credit usage, contain essential information that both credit bureaus and lenders use to formulate credit scores, which assess an individual’s creditworthiness. The two credit bureaus each have their own credit scores, and lenders can use their own formulas to assess borrowers. In the case of Monaghan, the error only appears on the TransUnion report.

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Credit report errors can lead to a drop in credit scores, and consumers who spot an error in their records are usually encouraged to report it promptly to the credit bureaus.

But Monaghan says that for nearly two years, his repeated attempts to correct the erroneous death report in his case went nowhere.

Global News saw copies of the transmission log of a fax sent by Monaghan’s financial institution and addressed to TransUnion and Equifax advising them of her husband’s death shortly after his death.

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Monaghan also shared a copy of a letter faxed from her bank and addressed to TransUnion in September 2020 confirming that she was, in fact, “alive and well.”

According to documents reviewed by Global News, TransUnion opened at least two investigations into the matter in the fall of 2020. But even after the credit agency corrected the information about Monaghan’s death, his TransUnion credit rating remained. zero, she said.

Making the process even more trying was a debilitating concussion that Monaghan says she suffered in February 2019, an injury that she says ultimately forced her to take disability leave.

“I really had a hard time coping… trying to convince them that I was alive and suffering from a head injury,” she says.

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TransUnion declined to comment on the specific Monaghan case, saying it could not discuss the situation of an individual consumer for reasons of confidentiality. However, he added that he contacted Monaghan to resolve the issue.

“Erroneous reports of consumer deaths are rare, but they do occur on occasion,” the agency said via email. “The TransUnion contact center will promptly correct a file on someone who has been wrongly reported to us as deceased after verifying the identity of a consumer. Consumers can reach TransUnion by phone at 1-800-663-9980. “

Shortly after Global News contacted TransUnion Canada, Monaghan said the agency contacted her by phone and resolved the issue. A day later, she said her TransUnion credit rating had been restored.

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Living with a zero credit score

As many Canadians know, credit scores in Canada range from 300 to 900, with numbers higher on this scale, which generally makes accessing credit easier and cheaper. Scores ranging from the mid 600 to the low 700 are generally considered as well. ”Lenders are likely to view those with lower scores as high risk borrowers.

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A credit score of zero, however, usually means that there is not enough credit information to formulate a score.

But Monaghan says knowing that “zero” indicates a lack of credit history rather than very bad financial habits was no consolation.

“It’s really embarrassing,” Monaghan told Global News, before TransUnion restored its credit rating last week.

There were also real consequences, she says. Monaghan says that while she was able to continue using the credit cards and line of credit she already had, she couldn’t apply for new credit.

“I actually started dating someone and we looked at selling their place and selling my place and starting over,” she said, speaking as her TransUnion credit score was up. still zero. However, she added: “I cannot claim a mortgage.”

Monaghan also says she borrowed from her line of credit and quickly paid off the money, believing the move would help her rebuild her score. It did not work.

But the very thought of not having a credit history was frustrating, she says.

I worked hard enough to have a good credit rating. I should be able to find a house and be able to say, ‘I’m sure I could get the mortgage,’ ”she said.

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What can you do if no one corrects an error in your report?

Examples of credit report errors include incorrect personal information, payments made on time and flagged as late, or listed accounts that you never actually opened, which can be a sign of identity theft.

While Canadians can order a free copy of their credit report from TransUnion and Equifax by mail or phone, both credit bureaus now allow consumers to also check their credit reports online for free.

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If you spot an error on your report, the first step is to ask the credit bureaus to correct it. Both credit bureaus have an internal process for investigating disputes relating to credit reports. You will need to gather documents to support your claim.

It can also help report the problem to the lender responsible for the reporting error, according to a online guide to correct Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) credit reporting errors.

If the lender does not agree that there was an error or that you are not satisfied with the results of the investigation by the credit bureau, you can of course ask to speak to the manager. .

But if escalating your case internally doesn’t work, your next step will depend on whether the lender is federally or provincially regulated. For federally regulated lenders like large banks, you can turn to one of two external complaints bodies, the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) or ADR Chambers banking ombuds (ADRBO). You can ask your lender which of the two you should contact.

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If you are dealing with a provincially regulated lender, such as a credit union, you will need to turn to your provincial regulatory body, says the FCAC.

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If you think the problem lies with the credit bureau, you can file an official complaint with them. If you need to go further, you can file your complaint with your province or territory. consumer affairs officebecause credit bureaus are regulated by the province. In Quebec, address your complaint to the Quebec Access to Information Commission (CAIQ).

Finally, if all else fails, you can hire a lawyer, says Omar Ha-Redeye, General Manager of the Durham Community Legal Clinic in Oshawa, Ontario.

But legal action is the option of last resort, he warns.

“It’s a longer process. It usually involves a little money to hire a lawyer. And there is an uncertain outcome, ”he said.

If you think you might need to go this route, put as much as you can in writing, says Ha-Redeye. If you are asked to speak on the phone, grab your recollection of the conversation soon after and send it by mail or email to the lender or credit bureau to make a written record of what was said, suggests. he does.

“Having this type of information – with the date on the letter, this is very important – will show that you have tried to put in effort all along to rectify the situation and resolve the problem with you,” he says.

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And if you think the credit report error has hurt you financially, it pays to try and document and quantify any financial damage or lost opportunity, Ha-Redeye notes.

From her home on Georgian Bay, however, Monaghan says she is relieved that her credit score odyssey is finally over.

“The error has held me captive,” she said via email. Now, however, she wrote: “I feel liberated.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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