Did someone steal your identity and use it to spend your money, use your good credit to open fraudulent accounts or take out loans in your name? The ways an identity thief can exploit your personal identifying information are endless. You may be surprised at the wrongdoer’s audacity and creativity.
Unfortunately, the second wave of harm from an identity theft after the initial fraudulent transactions begins when the thief fails to honor any of the debt incurred in your name – or the bills come to you for liability you never shouldered. Unknowing merchants, banks and other defrauded creditors then send negative credit reporting to the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) for failed debt in your name – and suddenly your credit score plummets. A low score can impact your ability to obtain credit, get a job, get approval for financial aid or rent an apartment.
Fortunately, you have a legal right to have fraudulent or false data removed from your credit reports through a process called blocking.
Credit report errors often stem from identity theft
When you discover that someone has stolen or is using your identity, file a police report and submit an online report of the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov. This FTC page also contains tips for resolving related issues such as closing accounts the thief is exploiting; alerting your banks, creditors and lenders; closing accounts the thief opened in your name; and others.
A consumer protection attorney can investigate your identity theft problems and advise you about and assist you with solutions.
As it concerns rectifying your credit score and correcting errors on your credit reports, these steps can be crucially important, according to the FTC:
- Place a one-year fraud alert through one of the credit bureaus so that an attempt to open a new account in your name will require the creditor to verify that it is actually you making the application.
- Be diligent about reviewing your credit reports for evidence of fraud and take steps for correction. The FTC reports at the above link that consumers can check their reports at no cost weekly through 2023.
- Notify each of the three credit bureaus of fraudulent information on your reports because of wrongful use of your identity and request that they block it.
- Investigate whether an extended (seven year) fraud alert is appropriate that would require a creditor contact you before opening a credit account with your identifying information.
- Consider an ongoing credit freeze during which you would limit third parties from viewing your credit report.
It will take time and effort to remove the tarnish from your good name and recover from the identity theft, but an experienced lawyer can educate and guide you at every step, especially if you encounter pushback from consumer reporting agencies, collectors, creditors and others.