(CBS 5) – Debt collectors don’t always get it right. Just ask Rodney Carvalho of Fair Oaks.

Earlier this year, as Carvalho was attempting to arrange a mortgage, he discovered a debt collection agency had placed a notice of an outstanding debt on Carvalho’s credit report. The agency claimed Carvalho owed $2800 to a doctor in Texas for an appendectomy – an operation, Carvalho swears, never took place.

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“I still have my appendix,” Carvahlo told CBS 5 ConsumerWatch. When Carvahlo called the debt collection company, RS Clark & Associates of Dallas, to ask them to remove the negative report, “they were unwilling to do it.”

The negative report is known as a “trade line” in the credit industry. And it was enough to send Carvalho’s credit score tumbling from a near perfect 813 to a not-bad 708.

Although it still isn’t clear how Carvalho got in the cross-hairs of a debt collector, cases like his in which consumers are hounded for debts that are not theirs are considered identity theft, according to Jay Foley of the ID Theft Resource Center. “That’s the best and safest way for us to handle it,” Foley said.

So, what should victims do to recover? According to Foley, first file a police report stating that you are the victim of identity theft. Next, contact the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and Transunion – and request they remove the false report. Foley advised communicating by sending certified letters, so there is a record.

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If all goes smoothly, the erroneous report should be off your credit report in three months. “The negative debt comes off your credit report, your credit score goes back to what it should be. It’s like it never happened,” Foley said.

Foley advised against hiring anyone to do the job for you. He said paying another party to clean up the problem could pose more risk of identity theft, because you’re handing over your social security number and other personal information.

Carvahlo is mostly finished clearing up his credit report.  But the damage was done.  Because of the negative report, he did not get the mortgage he wanted. The debt collection agency, RS Clark & Associates of Dallas insisted it did nothing wrong, and said it has “completely deleted” the debt. Company president Wes Rowden said “there was some kind of mix-up,” and that he’s “sorry there was a mistake.”

Federal Trade Commission – Identity Theft Website

Reporting ID Theft:

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