Correcting Fraudulent Information in Credit Reports
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) establishes procedures for correcting fraudulent information on your credit report and requires that your report be made available only for certain legitimate business needs.
Under the FCRA, both the consumer reporting company and the information provider (the business that sent the information to the consumer reporting company), such as a bank or credit card company, are responsible for correcting fraudulent information in your report. To protect your rights under the law, contact both the consumer reporting company and the information provider.
Consumer Reporting Company Obligations
Consumer reporting companies will block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report if you take the following steps: Send them a copy of an identity theft report and a letter telling them what information is fraudulent. The letter also should state that the information does not relate to any transaction that you made or authorized. In addition, provide proof of your identity that may include your SSN, name, address, and other personal information requested by the consumer reporting company.
The consumer reporting company has four business days to block the fraudulent information after accepting your identity theft report. It also must tell the information provider that it has blocked the information. The consumer reporting company may refuse to block the information or remove the block if, for example, you have not told the truth about your identity theft. If the consumer reporting company removes the block or refuses to place the block, it must let you know.
The blocking process is only one way for identity theft victims to deal with fraudulent information. There’s also the “reinvestigation process,” which was designed to help all consumers dispute errors or inaccuracies on their credit reports. For more information on this process, see How to Dispute Credit Report Errors and Your Access to Free Credit Reports, two publications from the FTC.
Information Provider Obligations
Information providers stop reporting fraudulent information to the consumer reporting companies once you send them an identity theft report and a letter explaining that the information that they’re reporting resulted from identity theft. But you must send your identity theft report and letter to the address specified by the information provider. Note that the information provider may continue to report the information if it later learns that the information does not result from identity theft.
If a consumer reporting company tells an information provider that it has blocked fraudulent information in your credit report, the information provider may not continue to report that information to the consumer reporting company. The information provider also may not hire someone to collect the debt that relates to the fraudulent account, or sell that debt to anyone else who would try to collect it.
Sample Blocking Letter Consumer Reporting Company
Your City, State, Zip Code
Name of Consumer Reporting Company
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am a victim of identity theft. I am writing to request that you block the following fraudulent information in my file. This information does not relate to any transaction that I have made. The items also are circled on the attached copy of the report I received. (Identify item(s) to be blocked by name of source, such as creditors or tax court, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.)
Enclosed is a copy of the law enforcement report regarding my identity theft. Please let me know if you need any other information from me to block this information on my credit report.
Enclosures: (List what you are enclosing.)
The Fair Credit Billing Act establishes procedures for resolving billing errors on your credit card accounts, including fraudulent charges on your accounts. The law also limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50 per card. To take advantage of the law’s consumer protections, you must:
- write to the creditor at the address given for “billing inquiries,” NOT the address for sending your payments. Include your name, address, account number, and a description of the billing error, including the amount and date of the error. See Sample Letter.
- send your letter so that it reaches the creditor within 60 days after the first bill containing the error was mailed to you. If an identity thief changed the address on your account and you didn’t receive the bill, your dispute letter still must reach the creditor within 60 days of when the creditor would have mailed the bill. This is one reason it’s essential to keep track of your billing statements, and follow up quickly if your bills don’t arrive on time.
You should send your letter by certified mail, and request a return receipt. It becomes your proof of the date the creditor received the letter. Include copies (NOT originals) of your police report or other documents that support your position. Keep a copy of your dispute letter.
The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days after receiving it, unless the problem has been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) after receiving your letter.
For more information, see Fair Credit Billing and Avoiding Credit and Charge Card Fraud, two publications from the FTC.
Sample Dispute Letter For Existing Accounts
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Account Number
Name of Creditor
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to dispute a fraudulent (charge or debit) on my account in the amount of $______. I am a victim of identity theft, and I did not make this (charge or debit). I am requesting that the (charge be removed or the debit reinstated), that any finance and other charges related to the fraudulent amount be credited, as well, and that I receive an accurate statement.
Enclosed are copies of (use this sentence to describe any enclosed information, such as a police report) supporting my position. Please investigate this matter and correct the fraudulent (charge or debit) as soon as possible.
Enclosures: (List what you are enclosing.)
Procedures to correct your record within criminal justice databases can vary from state to state, and even from county to county. Some states have enacted laws with special procedures for identity theft victims to follow to clear their names. You should check with the office of your state Attorney General, but you can use the following information as a general guide.
If wrongful criminal violations are attributed to your name, contact the police or sheriff’s department that originally arrested the person using your identity, or the court agency that issued the warrant for the arrest. File an impersonation report with the police/sheriff’s department or the court, and confirm your identity: Ask the police department to take a full set of your fingerprints, photograph you, and make a copies of your photo identification documents, like your driver’s license, passport, or travel visa. To establish your innocence, ask the police to compare the prints and photographs with those of the imposter.
If the arrest warrant is from a state or county other than where you live, ask your local police department to send the impersonation report to the police department in the jurisdiction where the arrest warrant, traffic citation, or criminal conviction originated.
The law enforcement agency should then recall any warrants and issue a “clearance letter” or “certificate of release” (if you were arrested/booked). You’ll need to keep this document with you at all times in case you’re wrongly arrested again. Ask the law enforcement agency to file the record of the follow-up investigation establishing your innocence with the district attorney’s (D.A.) office and/or court where the crime took place. This will result in an amended complaint. Once your name is recorded in a criminal database, it’s unlikely that it will be completely removed from the official record. Ask that the “key name” or “primary name” be changed from your name to the imposter’s name (or to “John Doe” if the imposter’s true identity is not known), with your name noted as an alias.
You’ll also want to clear your name in the court records. To do so, you’ll need to determine which state law(s) will help you with this and how. If your state has no formal procedure for clearing your record, contact the D.A.’s office in the county where the case was originally prosecuted. Ask the D.A.’s office for the appropriate court records needed to clear your name. You may need to hire a criminal defense attorney to help you clear your name. Contact Legal Services in your state or your local bar association for help in finding an attorney.
Finally, contact your state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to find out if your driver’s license is being used by the identity thief. Ask that your files be flagged for possible fraud.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from using unfair or deceptive practices to collect overdue bills that a creditor has forwarded for collection, even if those bills don’t result from identity theft.
You can stop a debt collector from contacting you in two ways:
- Write a letter to the collection agency telling them to stop. Once the debt collector receives your letter, the company may not contact you again with two exceptions: They can tell you there will be no further contact, and they can tell you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action.
- Send a letter to the collection agency, within 30 days after you received written notice of the debt, telling them that you do not owe the money. Include copies of documents that support your position. Including a copy (NOT original) of your police report may be useful. In this case, a collector can renew collection activities only if it sends you proof of the debt.
If you don’t have documentation to support your position, be as specific as possible about why the debt collector is mistaken. The debt collector is responsible for sending you proof that you’re wrong. For example, if the debt you’re disputing originates from a credit card you never applied for, ask for a copy of the application with the applicant’s signature. Then, you can prove that it’s not your signature.
If you tell the debt collector that you are a victim of identity theft and it is collecting the debt for another company, the debt collector must tell that company that you may be a victim of identity theft.
While you can stop a debt collector from contacting you, that won’t get rid of the debt itself. It’s important to contact the company that originally opened the account to dispute the debt, otherwise that company may send it to a different debt collector, report it on your credit report, or initiate a lawsuit to collect on the debt.
For more information, see Fair Debt Collection, a publication from the FTC.
If you think your name or SSN is being used by an identity thief to get a driver’s license or a non-driver’s ID card, contact your state DMV. If your state uses your SSN as your driver’s license number, ask to substitute another number.