If you have found that an identity thief has tampered with some of your accounts, you may have already contacted the related businesses. Once you have received your credit reports, you should review them to see whether other fraudulent transaction or accounts are listed. For more information on how to obtain you credit reports, see this post.
Your credit report is full of information about where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you've been sued or arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy. This information is used to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, and renting a home, so it's extremely important that the information is accurate and up-to-date. Check all key information including name, address, Social Security number, and employers. If you see errors on the report, like accounts you didn't open or debts you didn't incur, contact the credit reporting companies and the fraud department of each business that reported an error.
There are a lot of letters to be sent when dealing with Identity Theft. Sample letters are available to you here.
Disputing Errors with Credit Reporting Companies
There are three steps to disputing errors with credit reporting companies. First, you must send letters explaining the mistakes to the three credit reporting companies, as well as the fraud department of each business that reported a fraudulent transaction or reported a new account opened in your name by an identity thief. Also, if the errors are a result of identity theft and you have an Identity Theft Report, you can ask the credit reporting companies and business to block the disputed information from appearing on your credit reports. There will be more information about blocking later. (Don't know what an Identity Theft Report is? See this post for an explanation along with steps for obtaining one.) In your letters, you will want to list the errors that you found, include copies of the documents showing the errors, and ask that the credit reporting company remove fraudulent information. The credit reporting company must investigate the items you send, and forward that information to the business that reported the information to the credit reporting company.
Once you have sent your dispute letters, and the credit reporting companies have investigated, you will receive a response from the credit reporting company detailing the results of the investigation and what actions have been taken regarding your claim. As with all of the steps to this process, you will need to keep a copy of all correspondence, as well as notes from any telephone conversations that include the date and the name of the person with whom you spoke.
Once a business gets notice from the credit reporting company, it has 30 days to investigate and respond to the credit reporting company. If the business finds an error, it must notify the credit reporting company so your credit file can be corrected. No matter whether the information is found to be valid or fraud, the credit reporting company will send you a letter detailing the findings and whether or not the error in your credit report has been removed.
Disputing Charges on Existing Accounts
The first step to stopping identity theft on existing accounts is to change the passwords or PINs for all of your accounts. Next, you will ask each business if it will accept your Identity Theft Report or if it uses special dispute forms. If the company requires special forms, ask for blank forms. Once you know what forms are required, you should write to the fraud department of each business using the address the specify for disputes. When writing your letters, you should:
- Explain that you are an identity theft victim
- List the errors you found
- Send copies of documents that show the error
- Ask the business to remove the fraudulent information
- Include a copy of your Identity Theft Report and the special dispute forms, if the business requires them
- Include a copy of your credit report. Black out any personal information that doesn't pertain to your dispute.
The business must review your letter, investigate your complaint, and tell you the results of their investigation. If the information is wrong, the business must tell the credit reporting company. You should ask the business to send you a letter confirming that it removed the fraudulent information and keep that letter in case you see fraudulent information on your statement later.
As always, update your files. Keep a record of the dates that you changed the passwords and/or PINs, the dates you made calls or sent letters, and keep copies of every letter you send. It is also advisable to send all letters with a return receipt so that you know when it was delivered to the company.
Disputing Fraudulent Accounts Opened in Your Name
If you find that a new account has been opened in your name by an identity thief, you should immediately contact the fraud department of the business(es) where the account was opened. Explain that you are an identity theft victim and close the account. Ask if the business will accept the Identity Theft Report or it is uses special dispute forms, and if you have to use their forms, ask for blank forms.
Once you have made the initial report, you should send a copy of your Identity Theft Report or the dispute forms to the business, along with a letter asking the business to send you a letter confirming that the fraudulent account isn't yours, you aren't liable for it, and that it was removed from your credit report. This response letter should be kept in case you see this account on you credit report in the future. Keep a copy of all correspondence and a log of phone calls for your records.
Blocking: Report Errors to the Credit Reporting Companies
Earlier, we mentioned that you can request the credit reporting companies to block fraudulent information from your credit report. By law, credit reporting companies must block identity theft-related information from appearing on a victim's credit report. This includes unauthorized transactions, accounts, and inquiries. The get unauthorized information blocked, ou must give certain information to the credit reporting companies.
Write to each credit reporting company and include a copy of your Identity Theft Report, proof of your identity (name, address, and social). Explain in your letter which information on your report resulted from identity theft and that the information didn't come from a transaction you made or approved, and ask the company to block the fraudulent information. Remember to keep copies of letters along with the date they were sent.
If the credit reporting company accepts your Identity Theft Report, it must block the fraudulent information from your credit report within four business days after acceptance, and tell the business that sent the fraudulent information about the block. After a business has been notified of the block, it must stop reporting that information to all the credit companies and not sell or transfer the debt for collection. If your Identity Theft Report is rejected, it can take five days to ask you for more proof of the identity theft. Then, it has fifteen more days to work with you to get the information, and five days to review the information you send. It may reject any information you send after fifteen days. The credit reporting company must tell you if it won't block the information. If your Report is rejected, you can re-submit it.
Blocking: Report Errors to Businesses
Contact the business that sent the inaccurate information that appears on your credit report. Send a copy of your Identity Theft Report and a letter explaining what is inaccurate. After the business get your Report, it must stop reporting the inaccurate information to all three nationwide credit reporting companies. However, the business can still try to collect a debt, and sell or transfer the debt to a collection company.
To prevent a business form collecting, selling, or transferring a debt to a collection agency, you must contact the credit reporting companies and ask them to block fraudulent information.
If possible, ask the businesses for copies of any documents the identity thief used to open a new account or make charges in your name. These documents can help prove the theft. When requesting this information, you should send details about where and/or when the fraudulent transactions took place along with a copy of your Identity Theft Report or whatever proof the business requires and proof of your identity. If you don't want to do the steps yourself, you can give written permission to a law enforcement officer to contact the company of your behalf. The business must send you free copies of the records within 30 days of getting your request.
We know that much of this information sounds redundant, but you can never be too thorough when disputing claims and trying to regain control of your credit. Many identity theft victims never stop fighting to maintain their credit report. In our next installment, we will give you steps and advice for reporting fraudulent transactions on ATM and Debit Cards and Checking accounts, as well as a bankruptcy filed in your name and how to deal with affected investment accounts.
The information included in this post is taken from the FTC's "Taking Charge" guide to dealing with Identity Theft.