For victims of identity theft, the experience of losing a good credit score can be crippling. The lasting effects are just as bleak as those with bad credit; identity theft victims also face the potential of denied loan applications, lost opportunities, and high interest rates.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances that surround identity theft, credit repair is an option – just not an easy one. Many people spend countless hours and thousands of dollars attempting to improve their credit score and restore their good name. However, this doesn’t mean you should give up. Good credit is important, and there are ways to fight for it.
What should I do first?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there is a long list of steps to take after realizing that your identity has been stolen:
1. Contact one of the consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) immediately. They will place a fraud alert in your credit file and notify the other companies to do the same.
2. Obtain and review your credit report. Make note of any charges you did not make and call to ask your creditors (e.g., your bank, retail stores, etc.) to freeze or cancel your accounts. In future months, you should continue to check your credit report periodically to make sure no other fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name.
3. File a report with your local police station. Ask for a copy in order to verify the date and time it was filed.
4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. This will help the police to track and hopefully locate the person or people who have committed this crime.
How do I repair my credit?
Even after taking the necessary first steps, the process of cleaning up your credit is long and difficult. In order to have fraudulent charges removed from your credit report, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires you to contact both the consumer reporting company and your creditors. You must supply them with a copy of your Identity Theft Report and a letter highlighting the fraudulent charges. From there, the consumer reporting company will decide whether to block and expunge the charges from your record. If, however, they choose to deny your claims, the charges will remain on your credit report and you will be responsible for paying off charges you did not make. If this happens, you will be forced to go through a frustrating dispute process to further prove that your Identity Theft Report is accurate.
If you don’t want to handle this process alone, ask for help. Credit repair companies handle identity theft cases on a regular basis and are equipped with the expertise needed to represent you during an often stressful and emotional time. As the victim of a crime, you should not be forced to spend your time defending yourself and your innocence. Focus on your life and let experts focus on your credit score.