Identity Theft & Your Credit Report
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.
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.
Consumer laws provide for statutory damages when a company falsely damages a consumer’s credit or otherwise causes injury to credit. The consumer protection attorneys at Heenan & Cook are familiar with the law regarding identify theft and consumer reporting errors, and represent consumers on a contingency fee basis (no out-of-pocket fees) in pursuing claims for false credit reporting.
Signs 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.
Obtaining Your Credit Report
Consumers may obtain a free copy of their consumer report online once every 12 months. Simply go to www.annualcreditreport.com and request your complimentary Equifax, Experian and Trans Union profiles.
(Note: many other sites advertise as “free” but really contain hidden fees or charges.)
You are also entitled to a free report within 60 days of credit denial. The agency on which denial is based will be mentioned in the notice.
Getting False Information Off Your Credit Report
Accuracy of the information contained in the credit report is hugely critical in our society. So what do you do if the information contained in your credit report is inaccurate?
The first thing you need to do is send a dispute letter to the credit reporting agency and the creditor that is reporting the false information. We recommend that you send this letter via certified mail and save a copy for your records. Provide as much detail as possible about the nature of dispute. Attach copies of supporting documents. Here is a sample letter:
Your Address, City, State, Zip Code
Name of Company
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. I have circled the items I dispute on the attached copy of the report I received.
This item (identify item(s) disputed by name of source, such as creditors or tax court, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.) is inaccurate because (describe what is inaccurate or incomplete and why). I am requesting that the item be removed (or request another specific change) to correct the information.
Enclosed are copies of (use this sentence if applicable and describe any enclosed documentation, such as payment records and court documents) supporting my position. Please reinvestigate this (these) matter(s) and (delete or correct) the disputed item(s) as soon as possible.
Enclosures: (List what you are enclosing.)
Once a consumer disputes the accuracy of the credit report, the credit reporting agency must re-investigate the accuracy of the information being reported. If the information was incorrect, the credit reporting agency must correct its record and notify the people to whom a credit report was sent.
If the dispute does not correct the error, you should discuss your claim with a consumer protection attorney experienced with handling claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Fair Credit Reporting Act provides powerful remedies in instances in which credit reporting agencies fail to correct false information on a consumer’s credit report, including damages for impairment to credit and punitive damages when the agency’s conduct is “willful.” The Act also requires the credit reporting agencies to pay the consumer’s legal fees if the case is successful. This provision allows consumers to hire lawyers to represent them without paying upfront legal fees.
Examples of Fair Credit Reporting Act Cases
Credit reporting agency Equifax repeatedly confused Angela Williams credit report with another woman of the same name who had bad credit. Despite several dispute letters by Ms. Williams, Equifax continued to report bad debts which weren’t hers. As a consequence, Angela was denied student loans, credit-card accounts, ATM cards and other financial applications. She also couldn’t apply for a mortgage, fearing more recurrence of the credit problems. Finally, Ms. Williams brought a lawsuit under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The jury awarded her $219,000 in credit damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages as well as her attorney’s fees.
Rex Saunders traded in a car at a dealership and financed a second car. The dealership paid off his note on the trade-in and financed the second car with the same bank, BB&T. BB&T apparently misplaced the new loan information, however. Saunders said he never received a new payment book. When he repeatedly contacted the bank, bank representatives told him that he owed nothing. The DMV had no record of a lien on his car title.
Six months later, the bank woke up.
BB&T suddenly demanded more than $20,000 in overdue payments, late fees, and other charges. Saunders was willing to meet his loan obligations, but he refused to pay anything until the bank dropped the penalties and late fees. BB&T would not agree. It repossessed the car, torpedoed Saunders’ credit rating, and refused to acknowledge Saunders’ dispute about the legitimacy of his debt. On that evidence, the jury returned a verdict for Saunders, awarding no compensatory damages, but determining that the bank owed $1,000 in statutory damages and $80,000 in punitive damages as well as her attorney’s fees.
The consumer protection attorneys at Heenan & Cook are familiar with the law regarding identify theft and consumer reporting errors, and represent consumers on a contingency fee basis in pursuing claims for false credit reporting. Contact us today to learn whether you have a false credit reporting claim.