Fixing Your Credit Report After Identity Theft
If your identity has been stolen, then it's likely that your credit has been compromised. Part of clearing up the damage is fixing credit report errors or unauthorized charges and accounts opened in your name. The faster you catch and dispute errors, the easier it will be to clean them up and protect yourself against future identity theft.
If you've been a victim of identity theft, it's best to report it to The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Identify Theft Bureau. Next, file any necessary reports with law enforcement.
Next, contact the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit file. This will help prevent the thief from opening any more accounts in your name by alerting creditors and requiring additional identity verification. You can even take further precautions by freezing your credit file so lenders can't check your credit or issue accounts under your name.
Next, you'll want to get a credit report from each major bureau: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Review each report and make a list of anything that looks suspicious on each report.
Dispute Suspicious Items on Your Credit Report
Once you’ve made a list of items to dispute on your credit report, you'll need to address each one of them at a time until they are all fixed.
Reporting multiple errors at once or submitting multiple disputes could result in the credit bureau missing or discounting your disputed items. It could also be cause for the agency to decide that you’re being frivolous and denying your request for dispute.
Write a letter of dispute for each suspicious item. It's best to create a personalized, professional letter for each incorrect credit report entry and each credit reporting agency you’ll be sending the letter to. Briefly describe your dispute in the letter. Also include a copy of your credit report (don’t include the original), with the error highlighted and any supporting documentation that you might have.
In the case of identity theft, you'll need to include a copy of any reports you filed with the police or FTC, as well as any other documents that support your position that the entry is an error.
Next, send the letter by certified mail, which will give you a tracking number. When you’re trying to clean up the mess after identity theft, you need to track everything.
Prepare to be patient as you work through these steps for each mistake or error on your credit report. It's going to be a time-consuming process. And just because you dispute a credit entry doesn't mean that the credit reporting agency will find in your favor. Sometimes, you might have to be firm to get someone at the credit reporting agency to listen.
Keep Records of Everything
Keep copies of all the documents you collect as you work through the process of discovering and repairing the damage that has been done. That includes copies of all of the reports you file and all of the letters that you send out to credit reporting agencies, credit card companies, banks, medical institutions, or anyone else.
It's also smart to keep a record of the people that you talk to regarding the identity theft, with notes about each conversation. You can create a log by dividing each page into columns for the date, the name of the company, the name of the person you spoke with, contact information for that person (as well as any identifying information like extensions or employee numbers), and notes.
Keep all of this information in a single place, where you can get your hands on it if you need to.
Protect Yourself for the Future
To help prevent future identity theft, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. There are many free and low-cost versions available through financial institutions, credit bureaus, and third-party companies.