If you think you’re too smart or responsible to fall prey to identity theft, think again.
Identity theft – the fraudulent use of one person’s personal information for another’s financial gain – is incredibly common in the United States. The Federal Trade Commission received more than 1.4 million identity theft complaints in 2021 alone. Nearly one-third of these involved credit accounts that had been falsely opened in a victim’s name.
Victims of identity theft often suffer many hardships, especially financial through damage to their credit. Damage to their credit affects their ability to take major life steps such as buying a home or a car. This, in turn, leads many victims to experience intense stress, fear for their financial security or other emotional effects.
Thankfully, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you the right to challenge any inaccurate information in your credit report, including accounts that you did not open. Identity theft victims have an avenue to pursue justice, correct their credit and get back on their feet financially.
Not sure whether you’re the victim of identity theft or how to fix it? Let’s walk through the practical and legal steps to uncover and deal with identity theft from start to finish.
Discovering identity theft
The easiest way to detect a case of identity theft is to regularly check your credit report and make sure it’s telling your financial story – not someone else’s. You can do this easily at www.annualcreditreport.com.
If you don’t proactively keep an eye on your credit, you might learn in other ways that your identity was stolen, such as:
- Being rejected for a new credit account.
- Receiving a lawsuit or collection letter in the mail – from a company with which you never did authorized business.
- Being notified of an irregularity in your credit report by a credit monitoring company (e.g., Credit Karma).
Whether you catch identity theft early or learn about it later, you should act immediately to resolve it.
Diagnosing the problem
Your first step after learning your identity has been stolen is to determine the extent of the crime.
Most of the information you need to prove identity theft will be in your credit report. However, finding specific, numerical evidence of identity theft in your credit report is hard. Credit reports are complex documents, and it’s easy to miss irregularities if you aren’t used to reading them.
Request a copy of your credit report and take it to a consumer law attorney. They’ll help you figure out exactly how much money you were defrauded out of, and the number of fraudulent accounts opened in your name.
Filing a dispute
Once you and your lawyer have collected specific evidence of identity theft, you’ll file a dispute with the credit reporting agency and credit furnisher involved.
Credit reporting agencies are companies that publish credit reports, while credit furnishers are companies that open credit accounts with consumers, such as a bank. Credit furnishers are often reluctant to acknowledge a claim of identity theft since they would have to close the fraudulent account – and therefore couldn’t collect on any debt from the victim.
After your attorney files the dispute, the credit reporting agency and credit furnisher will have about 30 days to respond. Hopefully, they’ll accept the dispute and remove the fraudulent activity from your credit report so you can move on. However, the credit furnisher will likely reply with a letter claiming the fraudulent account was verified as belonging to you.
You and your lawyer should then file a follow-up dispute. You may choose to file a third dispute if the follow-up is rejected.
Taking legal action
If it’s clear that your dispute won’t be recognized, it’s time to pursue legal action.
When exactly you receive a resolution will depend on how quickly your local courts are moving. Kelly Guzzo, PLC, operates in jurisdictions with relatively fast courthouses (Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and Hawaii). So, someone who approaches us to handle a case of stolen identity might expect to settle within a year.
As part of any resolution, we will make sure to get a fresh copy of your credit report and that all fraudulent information has been removed.
Even after the dust has settled (and the credit companies have too), don’t treat identity theft as a one-time thing that’s forever behind you.
Moving on from identity theft
Nobody’s fully immune to identity theft, including those who have already been through it.
As the internet has grown more universal and complex, fraudsters have developed more effective means of breaching personal data online. And anyone can be tricked into disclosing vital information if they let their guard down. Thankfully, you can do a lot to prevent identity theft from blindsiding you in the future.
Keep an eye on your credit report going forward so you can catch any suspect activity early. Monitor your credit card statements, bank accounts and online shopping profiles. And don’t share your address, Social Security number, driver’s license number or other personal information with anyone you don’t trust. (Many identity thefts are committed by one of the victim’s friends or family members, so you can’t be too careful.)
And remember: No matter what kind of court settlement you might get from being an identity theft victim, it’s never worth putting your financial future on hold.
Let us help you.
Kelly Guzzo, PLC, has helped dozens of consumers overcome identity theft, recovering millions of dollars in settlements.
If you believe you’re the victim of identity theft, we’re here to help. We’ll meet with you for free to go over your credit report and discuss the best way to address any false information. And you won’t land in further financial trouble if we go to bat for you: You only pay us if we put settlement money in your pocket first.