If an imposter has stolen your identity to open fraudulent credit accounts in your name, you will want to act fast to not only protect your identity and credit record, but get the fraudulent accounts removed from your credit reports as quickly as possible.
First, to deter thieves from opening more accounts in your name, place an initial 90-day fraud alert on your credit file. Call one of the three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax or TransUnion and inform them that a thief has compromised your credit accounts.
The credit reporting agency that you contact will contact the other credit reporting agencies and notify them of the fraud alert.
Once the fraud alert is in place, it tells lenders to take extra steps to verify that you are the one who is seeking the request for new credit.
It also entitles you to receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Review your credit reports carefully. And make note of every account that you do not recognize as your own.
File a Report
The Federal Trade Commission recommends filing a complaint with them, then printing a copy of the report and using that to file a police report with your local law enforcement.
The FTC calls that an identity theft affidavit, and says it can be a helpful document to use when you’re dealing with the companies where the fraudulent accounts were opened, as well as the credit reporting agencies.
Dispute Those Accounts
Next, contact the financial companies where a thief has opened fraudulent accounts in your name. Speak to the fraud department, and inform them that you are a victim of identity theft. Follow up the phone call with a letter, sent certified mail with a return receipt. Keep a copy of the letter and the receipt for your files. You may be required to submit more than the identity theft affidavit; the lender will tell you what information you need to supply for this process.
Send a dispute letter to each of the credit reporting agencies informing them of the fraudulent accounts opened in your name. Request that the fraudulent accounts be removed from your credit file.
It is a good idea to send this letter by certified mail with a return receipt as well. Keep a copy of the letter and the receipt for your records.
In most instances, a credit reporting agency will investigate your complaint within 30 days.
Each credit report agency will forward information about the identity theft to the financial companies reporting the fraudulent accounts opened by the thief.
And once the financial company receives the notice from the credit reporting agency, it must investigate and report back to the credit reporting agency.
After an investigation is complete, a credit reporting agency must send you the results in writing. And you will be notified if the fraudulent accounts have been removed from your credit report.
It may take a while to clean up your credit file once an identity thief strikes, and you may wish to place a second 90-day fraud alert on your credit file as you go through the removal process for each fraudulent account on your credit report.
Alternatively, you can consider placing a credit freeze or credit lock on your reports. A credit freeze can be a more secure version of a fraud alert in that it blocks your credit reports entirely, so a lender can’t OK a loan in your name, thus barring your identity thieves from doing any further damage to your credit. Keep in mind there is usually a nominal fee associated with a credit freeze. And unlike a fraud alert, you can’t access your credit reports or open new lines of credit without unfreezing your reports.
Check Your Credit
One way to find out if there are fraudulent accounts in your name is to check your credit reports regularly. Pull your credit reports (you’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once a year), then check the accounts to see that all listed belong to you. If you see an account (or accounts) that do not belong to you, then it’s time to get to work on shoring up your credit and identity.
Monitoring your credit scores can also be a good way to catch identity fraud. If you monitor your scores regularly and you notice a large, unexpected change, it’s time to pull your credit reports. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com, along with an overview of what’s in your credit reports so you can track exactly where you stand.