A distressed pensioner was shocked to learn her credit rating had been trashed by a duped finance company that is chasing her for an allegedly fraudulent loan.
Three finance firms were allegedly tricked into providing $20,000 in credit under the woman's name without her knowledge after the 79-year-old widow was alleged to have been the victim of identity theft earlier this year.
She claims she only realised she was liable for the debts after one of the companies registered a caveat against her humble Auckland property and another threatened to repossess chattels.
After intervention by the Weekend Herald, two of the companies waived the debts, admitting they had been taken in.
But Christchurch-based Alternate Finance is refusing to back down. Her credit report shows the company is still pursuing her for thousands of dollars it claims is more than six months' overdue.
The debt saw her once positive credit rating tank from 863/1000, "very good", to 539/1000, "fair" - limiting her chances of getting credit cards, loans or utility services.
She only learned of her bad credit rating after being rejected as a customer last month by Meridian Energy after a credit check, causing her embarrassment and upset.
"I couldn't believe it because I know my credit rating is good. I always pay my bills."
She believed Alternate Finance hadn't carried out proper checks before issuing the loan and "must be pretty desperate" to be pursuing an elderly woman for the money.
After being made aware of the alleged fraud by the Weekend Herald, credit rating agency Centrix Group says it has now erased the woman's bad loan records relating to Alternate Finance.
"As a credit agency we have an obligation to report current, accurate and up-to-date information," Centrix managing director Keith McLaughlin said.
"Now we've been made aware this is purported to be a fraud we will take action."
The woman filed a police statement earlier this year suspecting a relative had used her driver's licence to successfully apply for the loans online.
And despite evidence she claims pointed to the likely culprit, just seven days later police said they were shelving the case because "we have not been able to find out who is responsible".
The police investigation was reinvigorated following the Weekend Herald's coverage and a 25-year-old man has now been charged with using a document for pecuniary advantage. He is expected to appear in court early next year.
McLaughlin analysed the woman's credit report. Before the loan applications, the woman's credit profile appeared normal with little activity "until there was potentially fraudulent events".
"In a confined space of time someone has tried to incur credit under that name."
McLaughlin said the Alternate Finance loan was the key reason the woman's credit rating had deteriorated, coupled with the number of credit applications made this year.
He had now removed the Alternate Finance loan from her record and wiped the other credit applications, rectifying her strong previous credit rating.
Centrix would also be raising the matter with Alternate Finance.
"We will go back to them and say we've been advised it is a suspected fraud and as such we cannot retain it on our database. Our job is to make sure we're accurately reporting information."
Alternate Finance is owned by David Leighton Diggs, who also owns Crester Credit. The companies were fined $103,500 in 2019 for taking security interests over prohibited consumer goods including washing machines, refrigerators, microwaves and beds.
The Weekend Herald asked Alternate Finance why it was still pursuing the woman and whether it would now do the right thing and waive the debt, but received no response.
FinCap senior policy adviser Jake Lilley said he did not know all the details of the woman's case, however the situation sounded awful.
"I'm surprised that they're digging in on this one."
Most lenders in these situations "take a sensible approach and recognise the harm that's caused and if there's been a failure in their processes acknowledge the fault".
Consumers should contest payment demands if they believed the money was not owed.
They could get advice through community law, FinCap's free MoneyTalks helpline or speak to a financial mentor who could take cases to the dispute resolution service.