Resolving credit problems that are a result of identity theft can be time-consuming and frustrating. The good news is that there are federal laws that establish procedures for correcting credit report and billing errors, and for stopping debt collectors from contacting you about debts you don't owe.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) establishes procedures for correcting mistakes on your credit record. Under the FCRA, both the credit bureau and the organization that provided the information to the credit bureau, such as a bank or credit card company, are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report.
Dealing with credit bureaus
To protect your rights under the law, contact both the credit bureau and the information provider. First, call the credit bureau and then follow up in writing. Tell them what information you believe is inaccurate. Include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. In addition to providing your complete name and address, your letter should clearly identify each item in your report that you dispute. Give the facts, explain why you dispute the information and request deletions or corrections. You may want to enclose a copy of your credit bureau report with circles around the items in question. To view a sample dispute letter, click here.
Send your letter by certified mail. Request a return receipt so you can document what the credit bureau received and when. Keep copies of your dispute letter and enclosures.
Credit bureaus must usually investigate the items in question within 30 days, unless they consider your dispute frivolous. They also must forward all relevant data you provide about the dispute to the information provider. After the information provider receives notice of a dispute from the credit bureau, it must investigate, review all relevant information provided by the credit bureau, and report the results to the credit bureau.
If the information provider finds the disputed information to be inaccurate, it must notify any nationwide credit bureau that it reports to so that the credit bureau can correct this information in your file. Note that:
- Disputed information that cannot be verified must be deleted from your file.
- If your report contains erroneous information, the credit bureau must correct it.
- If an item is incomplete, the credit bureau must complete it. For example, if your file shows that you have been late making payments, but fails to show that you are no longer delinquent, the credit bureau must show that you're current.
- If your file shows an account that belongs to someone else, the credit bureau must delete it.
When the investigation is complete, the credit bureau must give you written results and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. If an item is changed or removed, the credit bureau cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless the information provider verifies its accuracy and completeness. The credit bureau must also give you a written notice that includes the name, address and phone number of the information provider.
Dealing with creditors/information providers
In addition to writing to the credit bureau, tell the creditor or other information providers in writing that you dispute an item. Again, include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. Many information providers specify an address for disputes. If the information provider then reports the item to any credit bureau, it must include a notice of your dispute. In addition, if you are correct–that is, if the disputed information is not accurate–the information provider must not use it again.
For more information, consult “How to Dispute Credit Report Errors” and “Fair Credit Reporting,” two brochures available from the Federal Trade Commission or online at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.