Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on 9-11. Volunteer today



Driver Safety

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

Happy African American couple

AARP Books

Visit the Books Section

Enjoy titles on retirement, Social Security, and becoming debt-free.

Jobs You Might Like

most popular


On Your Side

Can a Typo Hurt Your Credit Score?

How a clerical error turned into one woman's credit nightmare

Ron Burley

Consumer expert Ron Burley — Photo by Art Streiber

It sounds far-fetched — an attorney files a client's bankruptcy papers using the wrong Social Security number and ends up ruining an innocent person's credit. Yet that's what happened to Doris Hart of Bainbridge, Georgia.

Hart's troubles began in March, when a vendor refused her Visa card. Her account had been closed, she learned, "because my credit report indicated I filed for bankruptcy." But she hadn't. In fact, until then she'd had a nearly perfect credit rating.

Turns out K. Todd Butler, a lawyer in Cairo, Georgia, transposed two digits of another woman's Social Security number in a bankruptcy filing. That wrong number was Hart's, and somehow that alone led credit agencies to conclude she was down-and-out. Hart made countless calls and spent more than $200 on certified letters to creditors, credit agencies, and the courts to straighten things out. A friend helped her find the errant filing by Butler — who, she says, told her not to worry. The state bar dismissed Hart's complaint about the error.

When I called Butler, he agreed to pay Hart $200. But his check came with a letter stipulating that by cashing the check she waived any future claims. She demurred.

Hart ultimately restored her credit, but she and her husband, Charles, decided to sign up for credit monitoring, to let them know if the bogus bankruptcy resurfaced. I told Doris's story to a contact at Bank of America, and even though the Harts are not customers, the bank enrolled them in its monitoring program free for two years, saving them about $600.

New consumer rules took effect last summer (too late for Hart) that can help if you're ever the victim of a credit snafu. "Now agencies must act promptly — within 30 days in most cases — to verify the information or remove it," says Rebecca Kuehn, assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission.

Read a new On Your Side column twice a month at our Money Channel.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


The Cheap Life

Jeff Yeager Cheap Life Ultimate Cheapskate AARP YouTube web series save money

Catch the latest episode of The Cheap Life starring Jeff Yeager, AARP's Ultimate Cheapskate. Watch

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Member Benefits HomeServe

Members can protect their homes with comprehensive repair plans from HomeServe.

AARP Credit card from Chase

Members can get cash back rewards on purchases with the AARP® Credit Card from Chase.

Woman holding smartphone in city, Google map tool

Members can find discounts on the go via the AARP® Member Advantages Offer Finder app.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points


Advance your skills. Transform your career.

Explore your learning possibilities.