Fixing Your Credit Report After Identity Theft

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If your identity has been stolen, then it's possible 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.

If you fear your credit score could be ruined due to identify theft or other fraud, take action immediately. The faster you catch and dispute errors, the easier it will be to clean them up and protect yourself against future identity theft. Here's where to start.

First Steps

If you've been a victim of identity theft, it's best to report it to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) identity theft department. Next, file any necessary reports with local law enforcement.

After the proper authorities have been notified, 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 if someone tries to open a new account with your information. You can even take further precautions by freezing your credit file so lenders can't check your credit or issue accounts under your name.

Lastly, you'll want to get a credit report from each major bureau: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can do this for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. This government-affiliated site allows you to access one free credit report from each bureau annually. Review each report and make a list of anything that looks suspicious.

Adding a fraud alert to your credit file is free to do and lasts for one year. To do so, you only need to notify one credit bureau; that company is required to alert the other two bureaus on your behalf.

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 until they are all fixed.

Write a letter of dispute for the suspicious items. It's best to create a personalized, professional letter for 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 claim 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. Once your letter is received, the bureau is required to investigate your claims, typically within 30 days.

The credit bureau will forward all your information to the lender or institution that provided the incorrect information on your report. The lender will conduct their own investigation and give their findings to the credit bureau. When the inquiry is complete, you'll receive notification in writing informing you of the results and what changes, if any, have been made to your report.

Prepare to be patient as you work through these steps for each error on your credit report; just because you dispute a credit entry doesn't mean that the credit reporting agency will rule 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 the reports you file and all the letters that you send out to credit reporting agencies, credit card companies, banks, or medical institutions.

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.

It's also smart to keep a record of the people that you talk to regarding the identity theft, with notes about each conversation. Keep a log by creating 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 easily get your hands on it if you need to.