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How do you straighten out a credit file mix-up?

December 5, 2012: 6:30 AM ET

My mother and her ex-daughter-in-law shared the same first and last name. My ex-sister-in-law has ruined her credit ratings, and now my mother is having issues with her checks, charge cards, etc., due to sharing the same name. Creditors are not bothering to look at Social Security numbers. Is there any way to repair my mother's credit? – Scott

Untangling your mother's credit information may be a headache. Mixed credit files, also known as co-mingled reports, are notoriously difficult to straighten out, says Gerry Detweiler, personal finance expert at Credit.com.

The first order of business is for your mother to request her credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies — TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. She is entitled to receive one free copy per year from each agency through AnnualCreditReport.com. With that information in hand, says Detweiler, she should dispute all mistakes with the credit reporting bureaus in writing. He recommends submitting those disputes via certified mail with return receipt requested. Your mother should include copies of any documentation that backs up her side of the story.

If that doesn't get results, the next step is for your mother to file a complaint with your state attorney general's office, along with the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As a last resort, she can talk to a consumer law attorney about a possible credit damage lawsuit.

But even if your mother successfully disputes these items, she'll need to keep an eye on her credit in case the deleted information becomes associated with her credit file again in the future. "If her scores drop again," says Detweiler, "she'll know that it's time to contact the credit reporting agencies again — or get legal help."

— Marc Mewshaw

Got a question for the Help Desk? Send it to helpdesk@cnnmoney.com.

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