People discover that they are the victim of identity theft in a variety of ways. They may get an alert from their credit card company about unusual activity. They may find unfamiliar entries on their credit report when they review their free annual copy. Unfortunately, many people don’t discover it until they are denied a car loan or mortgage due to a poor credit history—one that is not even theirs!
However you discover that someone has used your personal financial information to get credit cards or loans in your name, you have a right to take certain actions—and credit bureaus and debt collectors have to respond in certain ways. If you have any hope of recovering from identity theft, you have to understand your rights.
Your Rights Under Federal Law
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) protects victims of credit identity theft by requiring various agencies to take certain actions. As a victim, you must be proactive and take steps to exercise your rights. As a California consumer attorney, I can talk you through these actions if you find them difficult to manage. Under the FCRA, you have the right to do the following:
File a Fair Trade Commission (FTC) Identity Theft Report.
Even though there is little hope of catching the identity thief, you should file a police report and then create an Identity Theft Report with the FTC. You will need a copy of this report when filing disputes with businesses, credit card issuers, and credit reporting agencies.
Place a one-year fraud alert on your credit report.
With a fraud alert on your credit reports, creditors must take extra steps to verify applications for credit in your name. By contacting one credit reporting agency, the alert will be placed on all of your credit reports for one year.
Place a seven-year extended fraud alert on your credit report.
You also have the option of placing an extended alert on your credit reports. When you send a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report to the credit reporting agencies, they will place a seven-year fraud alert on your credit file.
Get free copies of your credit report.
Under California law, victims of identity theft are entitled to one free credit report per month for the year following the date of the police report. This is a good way to track any continued fraudulent activity in your name.
Get fraudulent information removed from your credit report.
When you send a letter to a credit reporting agency requesting that fraudulent information be removed, they are required by law to comply. Along with the letter, you will also have to send a copy of the FTC Identity Theft Report.
Dispute fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit report.
If a credit bureau does not immediately block entries you have told them are fraudulent, they have a limited amount of time to investigate them. They must place a note on your file that these entries are under investigation.
Stop creditors and debt collectors from reporting fraudulent accounts.
You also have a right to communicate directly with creditors and debt collectors to stop them from reporting fraudulent accounts to the credit bureaus.
Get copies of documents related to the identity theft.
Any company that has documents related to your identity theft case must give you copies of them at your request. These may include transaction records or applications for new accounts. You also can tell the company to give the documents to a specific law enforcement agency.
Stop a debt collector from contacting you.
Once you send a letter to a debt collector requesting that they stop contacting you, they are required by law to cease all contact.
California identity theft victims’ rights mirror and reinforce these federal laws.
What If Your Rights Are Violated?
In many cases, you may be entitled to monetary damages if any of these rights are violated. These damages may come from a credit reporting agency, a debt collector, or a creditor. Contact me online or call my office directly at 855.982.2400 if you have any questions about your rights, or if you believe your rights have been violated. I do not charge a fee unless we are successful in collecting damages.