Identity theft is an ever-growing problem in today’s information-sharing age. It takes a consumer’s own vigilance to uncover a theft of their identity and their willingness to fight to get their identity back.
How Can Identity Theft Hurt Me?
Identity theft can cause a variety of problems with credit reports and debt collectors. The people taking your identity can open credit cards in your name and run up huge charges, ruining your credit rating and making future purchases impossible. Insurance companies use lower credit scores to justify higher rates. You may even be denied employment or fired from your job because of false information in your credit history. And you could suffer serious harassment by debt collectors. Even after you discover the theft, corporate predators may have you take actions that are counter-productive and will hurt your ability to recover your identity and the compensation you deserve for going through the whole ordeal.
Signs of Identity Theft
If you have experienced any of the below, it is possible that you have been a victim of identity theft:
- Unknown credit accounts have popped up on your credit report.
- You have been receiving mail or pre-approved credit offers with someone else's name at your home or office.
- Companies that you have not done business with or applied to for credit have been looking at your credit report.
- Debt collectors have started sending you collection notices for accounts you do not have.
- Your credit report lists an alias name or address that you have never used.
- You have received bills, statements, or other account information in the mail relating to accounts you didn't open.
However, any of the above could have occurred by mistake. Therefore, you will not know if you have been a victim of identity theft until you have received all the documents relating to the information that is harming you.
The credit grantors (banks, financing companies, etc.) regularly make mistakes about the identity of their own customers, including their social security numbers, names, and other identifying information. And credit bureaus regularly make credit report errors, confusing consumers with each other, mixing and merging credit information inappropriately, and attributing credit information to people who have no relation to the accounts in question.
Since consumers rarely have conclusive proof of identity theft, they should never execute any "identity theft affidavit" or "fraud affidavit" until they have seen the actual application which is believed to be forged. Likewise, consumers should never execute those affidavits without consulting an attorney first.
What to Do
If you are or suspect that you are a victim of identity theft, learn your rights, prepare your case, and fight back!
If you are a victim of identity theft, you are entitled to several benefits under the revised Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). That statute not only entitles you to free copies of your credit file (your credit reports), it also enables you to place a fraud block in your credit report file. By placing a fraud block in your credit file, you will be notifying all potential creditors that someone has been using your identity and warning them not to extend further credit without absolute proof that they are actually dealing with you.
The Dangers of Disputing an Item
Second, if you dispute an item on your credit report directly to the creditor and claim identity theft, you open yourself up to an open-ended inquiry from that creditor. Under the revisions to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), consumers must provide all information requested by the creditor if there is a credit reporting dispute. This means that by disputing an identity theft item directly to a creditor, you may be required to provide information that is not already in the possession of that creditor, information that can be used to further harass you or destroy your credit.
Starting a Lawsuit
You may end up having to launch a lawsuit to get what you deserve. In order to start a case, you will need all the documents that relate to dispute and all the documents that relate to your damages (how you were harmed). You also need to gather any copies of your credit report that are available, including copies that you have received or that anyone else has received (including a mortgage broker, car dealer, or insurance agent). If you have received any letters denying you credit, you should gather those letters as they can help establish your damages.
Contacting an Attorney
Search our Find An Attorney directory to find a NACA attorney who can assist you in fighting identity theft in your area.