Millions of Americans suffer from some form of identity theft every year. Identity theft can include the theft of personal information, like one’s Social Security number or driver’s license, or the use of someone’s personal information for illegal goals.
While identity theft can be frustrating and even scary to deal with, the Fair Credit Reporting Act arms all American consumers with tools they can use to defend themselves against it. Read on to learn more about how the FCRA helps you fight back against identity theft.
The FCRA enshrines a wide variety of rights for American consumers. These relate to their credit and background information and that information’s accuracy. The FCRA also provides rights intended to protect consumers’ identities – here’s a breakdown.
First and foremost, you have the right to ask a business, credit bureau, or any other related organization for records of transactions related to an identity theft incident.
Say that you discover that your identity has probably been compromised. Your debit card, for instance, has shown records of transactions in Bermuda even though you are still at home in the US. In that case, you can demand and have access to any records of those transactions.
The purpose of this right is to give you a chance to prove the transactions are fraudulent, which is the first step in reclaiming your identity and acquiring new cards, if necessary.
Next, you have the right to access free copies of information in your credit file. Specifically, each of the big three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – must provide you with access to at least one free copy of your credit report every year. That totals three copies of your credit report from the three credit agencies combined.
You can use these copies of your credit information to locate errors or inaccurate information and to monitor your credit information for signs of identity theft. After that, you can still get new copies of your credit information, but you may have to pay a fee to the credit bureau of your choice.
On top of that, every consumer has the right to ask nationwide credit reporting agencies to put fraud alerts in their files. A fraud alert lets creditors, lenders, and other important organizations know that you might be a victim of identity theft. In this way, those organizations might not automatically assume that risky financial behavior is your fault.
For example, if you’re applying for a mortgage loan, but your credit file has a fraud alert, a lender for that mortgage loan might give you the benefit of the doubt if you tell them that your identity was recently compromised and that they should pay attention to any strange transactions made halfway around the world.
The FCRA gives you the right to ask the consumer reporting agency of your choice to block fraud-related information from your credit file.
Say that you discover that there are records of fraudulent transactions or bad loans made on another continent. Those can compromise your ability to open a new line of credit or get a new loan back in the United States. To prevent this from happening, you can ask the credit agencies to block that information since it's not accurate for your file (as it's related to your stolen identity, not your actual creditworthiness).
Another key right under the FCRA is your right to get information from debt collectors. If you ask a debt collector for information about a debt they're trying to collect, they are legally obligated to provide it to you, such as the amount of the debt, the name of the original creditor, etc. If the debt collector refuses to give you this information, they are legally not allowed to pursue that debt any further.
The FCRA grants you the right to prevent businesses from reporting credit information if you think the information is related to identity theft. For example, if you find out that an identity thief stole your personal information and used it to take out an irresponsible loan, you can ask the lender not to report that information to the credit bureaus.
That way, your credit score won’t take a major hit for something that isn’t your fault.
Lastly, you have the right to ask for a security freeze to be placed on your credit report. A security freeze stops a consumer reporting agency from releasing information in your credit report unless you give them express authorization. In other words, it will stop the spread of misinformation or bad credit info that is the result of identity theft.
All of these rights play an important role in stopping the damage that can easily spread as a result of identity theft. Even in the best of cases, a few pieces of stolen information can derail your credit score and cause a huge headache.
By exercising these rights, you can mitigate the damage and get your credit score back on track. If you’re not sure about how to exercise these rights or when they apply, contacting consumer rights attorneys is a good idea. They’ll be able to break down your rights in more detail.
The FCRA’s consumer rights are critical tools you can use to protect yourself against identity theft. But if you believe your identity has already been compromised, our educated attorneys can help you exercise these rights to prevent your information from spreading further. We can also help you bring a lawsuit against the at-fault party and much more. Contact us today for a free consultation.