For a homeowner who says she has never missed a mortgage payment, the word "foreclosure” listed next to her Sycamore home shocked Kristin Miller.
Miller said she recently found the false foreclosure listing on Zillow, the wildly popular website where consumers turn for information on home values, price histories and foreclosures.
"We were very worried when we saw it," she said. "The first thing my husband said is we better run our credit to make sure it has not been affected."
Her concern isn't unique. Online forums offer dozens of angry homeowners complaining about false foreclosure listings on the site.
"My jaw totally dropped," said Cassandra Jo Terry.
The North Carolina woman said she has lived trouble-free in her house for decades and was stunned to see the "F" word next to her listing.
"It is not in foreclosure at this time nor has it ever been at the point of foreclosure," she said.
How does it happen? Zillow gets its information from public records, and public records are notoriously inaccurate. That much explains why the company's home value estimates are sometimes way off. But how does something as specific -- and potentially damaging -- as a foreclosure get into the system?
Zillow refused to name its sources, the companies it hires to aggregate data. That makes a frustrating mistake even harder for homeowners to disprove.
"That's when you start running into problems because you don't know where the data is actually coming from because it's an aggregation of different sources," explained Matt Farrell, the President-elect of the Chicago Association of Realtors.
And agents, often at odds with online services, say bad data is becoming an everyday headache.
Ferrell said realtors have access to data that is generally more accurate, and that can help a consumer concerned about something they've found online.
For those who find themselves falsely foreclosed on Zillow, there is some recourse. Consumers can "flag" listings on the site so they're reviewed by a company representative.
Experts said it is highly unlikely homeowners who find a "false foreclosure" on any online website will see negative ramifications to their credit record.
Miller's listing was ultimately corrected following NBC Chicago's inquiry. Terry said hers was corrected about a week after she contact the company.
Zillow's complete statement:
Our goal at Zillow is to help people make better real estate decisions by providing access to previously hard-to-find data and information on homes. Before Zillow, it was difficult for consumers to educate themselves about the housing market. Now, they can find data on 110 million U.S. homes and access information about everything from how much a home last sold for to how long a for-sale home has been on the market.
The majority of our information comes from public records -- county tax assessor offices, recorders of deeds and courthouses, for example -- although homeowners can claim their homes and make updates.
We take accuracy incredibly seriously, and provide ways for consumers to flag inaccurate information right on the site for review by our customer service team. If a home is incorrectly listed as a foreclosure, a homeowner can flag it for instant removal and subsequent review by customer service. If a foreclosure is inaccurately listed in a home's sales history, customer service will respond to a flag within a day.