Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S., with over nine million victims each yeari. While some identity theft victims experience little more than the hassle of reporting the issue and changing their credit card numbers, for others the experience becomes a multi-year battle to restore their identities.
If your ID theft case is more complicated, it’s vital that you learn how to take additional steps, and this starts with understanding the tools the government has made available to you and your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FACTA). Unfortunately, the government’s own surveys suggest that less than half of consumers are aware of their rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and many did not know they needed to contact the credit reporting agencies to notify them of their ID theft.
One of the key tools created by the Fair Credit Reporting Act for both actual and potential victims of ID theft is the ability to create a fraud alert. This tool allows consumers who have been, or have a reasonable suspicion that they are about to become, a victim of identity theft to place a fraud alert on their credit files.
To place a fraud alert, you just need to contact one of the consumer reporting agencies. That agency is responsible for notifying the other two consumer reporting agencies. These alerts notify potential creditors that you may have been a victim of fraud and that special care should be taken to verify the consumer's identity before extending new credit.
A fraud alert is not a credit freeze. Fraud alerts indicate that special care should be taken before giving credit, making it more difficult for an ID thief to open credit in your name. A credit freeze blocks potential creditors from getting access to your credit report, which means they are very unlikely to issue new credit and therefore block the ID thief from establishing new credit under your name.
If you are not actively trying to open a new credit account, or get a loan, consider placing both a fraud alert and a credit freeze on your report with a consumer reporting agency (who will share this information with the other agencies).
Once you’ve placed a fraud alert, you have the right to request a free credit report from each of the three consumer reporting agencies – and this report is independent of your right to request a free credit report from each of the agencies annually. Note: You also have the right to request that only the last four digits of your Social Security number be visible on your credit reports.
When you receive your credit reports, carefully review these for any accounts you have not opened, requests for your credit information from companies you have not contacted, and any debts shown that you can’t identify as legitimately yours. Also check to see if your name, Social Security number, employer and address information are correct.
If there are any errors on your credit report, get them removed by notifying both the credit reporting agency and the business that the ID thief used to create fake loans or lines of credit (like the bank where the ID thief obtained a credit card in your name, or the lending institution that gave a loan to the ID thief). Technically you should only need to notify the creditor or reporting agency, but it is better to report to both entities.
When a creditor or a credit report agency receives notice that you dispute information, they are required to conduct a reasonable investigation to identify whether the information you are disputing is accurate. Note: You may need to show that you have filed a police report of the Identity theft as part of your request for dispute.
If the information in your credit report is found to be inaccurate, your credit report must be corrected, but you should follow up to ensure that the corrections have been made.
Once you’ve identified information on your credit report as being the result of identity theft, and you provide a copy of your identity theft report filed with the police, the Fair Credit Reporting Act generally requires credit report agencies to block the display of that information on your report.
Disputing information is different than blocking information. A block is specifically aimed at information that is the result of identity theft. It permanently prevents credit reports from showing the blocked information to persons or companies requesting credit report information (unless in researching the dispute it is determined that the block was made in error or was based on falsified information by the consumer).
Credit reporting agencies are required to carry out the request to block information within four days of receiving a valid request accompanied by a copy of an identity theft report filed with the police. The credit reporting agency is also required to notify the company that provided the information that the information may be the result of identity theft and has been blocked.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the credit report agencies to send you a copy of your rights when you contact them to report that you have been a victim of fraud or identity theft. The notice has to include a summary of the rights available to consumers (essentially the information in this article) to let you know how to correct the damage from identity theft, as well as information on how to contact the FTC for more information.
Note: The FTC has reported that consumers have complained to them about feeling pressured by the consumer reporting agencies to purchase credit monitoring services. Be aware of the potential sales pressure and make your own choice as to whether or not you want to pay for credit monitoring – and if so, whether you want to purchase this from one of these agencies or from another source. To see how identity theft monitoring services stack up, search online for “best identity theft monitoring service” or “best credit monitoring service,” and read the reviews.
i As of March, 2012