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Credit reports often feel like a mystery, particularly if you haven’t seen yours. But what if you discovered you had a second credit report you didn’t know existed?

“It’s a pretty rare thing,” says Carla Blair-Gamblian, director of credit education for Veterans United. But every once in a while she’s seen situations where a client ended up with two credit files at the same credit bureau.

Referred to sometimes as “split files,” “fragmented files” or even “phantom files,” part of your credit history ends up on one report and part of it is on another, usually “hidden” file. Blair-Gamblian says that she’s seen only three or four cases of it in the past six or seven years, but they were always women. She speculates that a name change along with an address change may cause the mix-up — especially if a Social Security number is entered incorrectly.

“Back in the days of the manual credit files, we would see it pretty frequently,” says Connecticut bankruptcy attorney Gene Melchionne, who worked for a credit bureau before files were computerized and files may have included arcane details such as the color of your wedding dress. “Usually it was the result of someone using multiple Social Security numbers or birthdates so we wouldn’t be able to match the credit inquiries completely,” he says.

How do you know if your credit report has a doppelganger? One major tip-off is when accounts from major lenders appear on one or two of your credit reports but not all three.

“It is certainly possible that you have a creditor that doesn’t report to all three bureaus so maybe you shouldn’t be alarmed, especially if it’s a smaller regional lender,” says Blair-Gamblian. But if you have major creditors that report to all three bureaus — Experian, TransUnion & Equifax — there is no reason that they shouldn’t appear on all three of your credit reports.

If a split file does occur, it can be difficult to straighten out. After all, how do you request a credit report that the credit reporting agency says doesn’t exist? You may have to escalate a complaint with them and mention specifically that you believe there may be two files.

Thankfully, most consumers will never have to deal with this problem. “I haven’t seen anything like a split file since the dawn of computers,” say Melchionne. “In fact, quite the opposite is more likely; files that have been combined due to similar information. When I bought my first house, I was told that my credit at the bank had been confused with my father’s and that I paid a mortgage off when I was 12. ”

To prevent problems such as a split file or mixed file, always be sure to use complete and consistent information when filling out a credit application, especially if you are a junior or senior or have a common name. And to ensure your credit reports are accurate and complete, you need to check them. You can get free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you want to monitor your credit more regularly, you can get a free credit report snapshot from Credit.com, updated every 14 days.

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