“John, I’ve been watching with interest the stories about Target’s data breach and how the information compromised has evolved from payment information to now include personal information. If someone uses my personal information, opens a new account in my name, and never makes payments how can I get that off my credit reports?”
This is a great question and very timely considering some fraudster is running around with payment and/or personal information belonging to at least 70,000,000 Target customers.
Thankfully the Fair Credit Reporting Act (hereafter “FCRA”) provides VERY aggressive consumer protections regarding identity theft protection and fraud. And, every state has additional protections that
The FCRA has an entire section that addresses fraud and identity theft. You have the right to the following at no cost:
One-call Fraud Alerts: You can place a fraud alert on your credit reports that will remain for 90 days.
You only have to contact one of the credit bureaus to place the alert and they have to “refer” the information to the other credit reporting agencies.
A fraud alert asks new creditors to verify that you are, in fact, the person applying for credit in your name and makes it illegal for them to extend credit in your name without your authorization.
Extended Fraud Alerts: You can extend the 90-day fraud alert to remain for 7 years. You’ll have to submit something called an “identity theft report” to the credit bureaus.
An identity theft report is any fraud affidavit or police report filed with a law enforcement agency.
This helps to separate the real victims of fraud from those who are crying fraud to get legitimate information removed from a credit report, as filing a false police report is a crime.
Placing the extended alert is another “one-call” action, as the credit bureau receiving your request has to share it with the others.
Correcting Credit Reports Containing Fraudulent Data: Despite the protections afforded under the FCRA, we all know that true name fraud happens.
And, it can result in derogatory account and collection information appearing on your credit reports.
That’s bad news because now it’s likely harming your credit scores and you’re receiving calls and letters from collection agencies.
If you have information on your credit reports that has been caused by fraud it’s not the end of the world because you have some fantastic protections under the FCRA.
Once you notify the credit bureaus that you have information on your reports caused by identify theft they have to block it from your credit reports, within 4 business days.
That’s 26 days sooner than they have to complete garden-variety credit disputes.
You’ve got to provide them with some paperwork, including the same type of identity theft report I explained above, but once it’s blocked, it’s gone. Done and done!
Every state in the country has a law that allows victims of fraud to place a security freeze on their credit reports for free.
A security freeze (also called a “credit freeze”) prevents any new credit from being issued in your name.
The freeze essentially takes your credit reports out of circulation and no new lender can get access to it, or your credit scores.
And, no access to credit reports/scores means no underwriting of any type of loan.
Be aware, however, that while a security freeze locks any new lenders out of your credit reports and prevents true name credit fraud, it can also delay legitimate credit applications that you’ve submitted.
You’ll have to proactively “thaw” your credit reports and put them back into circulation prior to submitting credit applications or you too will not be able to open an account in your name.
In my mind this is little reason to not freeze your credit reports especially if you have already been a victim of credit fraud.
Experian has a very good explanation of security freezes, the pros and cons, and the process of placing a freeze all on their website here.
A final note, which is actually more of a warning…if you’ve read this and think you can use these procedures to have negative but accurate information removed from your credit reports under the guise of it being fraudulent, I’d suggest you think twice as you’d be committing fraud and might find yourself on the wrong side of a Federal indictment.
I’ve served as an expert witness in more than one of these cases.
John Ulzheimer is the Credit Expert at CreditSesame.com, and a credit blogger at SmartCredit.com, Mint.com, and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. The opinions expressed in his articles are his and not of Mint.com or Intuit. You can follow John on Twitter here.