Ask the Expert: Do I Have Any Rights If I'm a Victim of Identity Theft?
Question: I just found out that my identity was stolen. What are my rights as a consumer?
Answer: You have more protection than you think. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) gives consumers some powerful tools to combat identity theft. You need to act quickly to stop creditors from getting misinformation that can damage your reputation.
One of your providers—a bank, credit union, insurer, financial planner or attorney—may already offer you excellent identity theft coverage. You just may not be aware of it. Give your providers a call. If they do offer identity theft protection, don’t stop there. Get the name of the identity theft services company and call them up. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Use the Consumer Federation of America’s best practices recommendations and these tips from CyberScout's CEO as your guide. Be proactive—don’t wait to become a victim of identity theft before finding a company you’re comfortable with.
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, you have the right to:
1. Place a fraud alert on your accounts by contacting a consumer reporting agency (Experian.com, Equifax.com or Transunion.com). You only need to place an alert with one agency. Officials will tip off the other two of suspicious activity. After you add the fraud alert to your accounts, your file will be flagged. Creditors will be required to call you or otherwise verify your identity before extending credit. You can place an initial fraud alert for 90 days and extend it for up to seven years. Each credit bureau will mail you a notice of your rights as an identity theft victim.
2. Add an Active-Duty Alert on accounts, if you’re deployed overseas. This special notice for military personnel is valid for at least 12 months.
3. Request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. These credit reports are separate from, and in addition to, the annual free credit report that all consumers are entitled to receive.
4. Dispute the accuracy of information on your reports, either with the credit reporting agency or the creditor. After you file the dispute, the agency or creditor is required to perform an investigation to determine whether the information is accurate. If the information in the report is the result of fraud, it must be corrected.
5. Block information from your file that is the result of the identity theft. The credit reporting agency is required to respond within four days of receiving a request to block information that is fraudulent. You must identify the information to be blocked, and provide the consumer reporting agency with proof of your identity and a copy of your identity theft report. Once a debt resulting from identity theft has been blocked, a person or business with notice of the block may not sell, transfer or place the debt for collection.
Remember, if you suspect your identity has been stolen, call your insurer or bank, which might provide LifeStages™ Identity Management Services from CyberScout. Or contact them directly. One of their fraud specialists will guide you and provide practical support until your good name and credit are restored.
Gerri Detweiler — Credit.com's Director of Consumer Education, Gerri focuses on financial legislation, budgeting, debt recovery and consumer savings information. She is also the co-author of Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights, and Reduce Stress: Real-Life Solutions for Solving Your Credit Crisis as well as host of the syndicated radio program TalkCreditRadio.com .