We recently received this reader question:
“I have several negative items on my credit report, including two charge-offs and a collection that I know are not mine and the creditors refuse to remove them. The name that was used isn’t my last name and the address listed is in another state that I have never lived in. They fail to see it! I’ve resorted to working with a credit repair company to have the items disputed. What else can I do?”
By law, creditors cannot arbitrarily report inaccurate information in your credit reports, and you have the right to dispute the information under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Before even considering hiring a credit repair company to file a dispute, make sure you fully understand what they do and how they work.
Disputing Credit Report Errors
If you have inaccurate negative information in your credit reports, it’s best to include as much documentation as possible to help the credit reporting agencies with the investigation process.
When you file a dispute with the credit reporting agencies they’re required to open an investigation and have 30 days to resolve the dispute. As part of the investigation process, they’ll contact the creditor or company that’s currently reporting the information in your credit report. If the creditor or entity reporting the information proves or confirms that the debt belongs to you, essentially validating the debt, the account will remain on your credit report. If the investigation concludes that the information is inaccurate, the credit reporting agency must either remove the account altogether or update the account information so that it’s being reported accurately.
In cases where you’re hitting a brick wall with the credit reporting agencies (and the items are inaccurate or do not belong to you), another option is to file a complaint directly with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB began overseeing the credit reporting agencies in July of 2012, and started accepting consumer complaints in October of last year. To file a complaint with the CFPB, visit its complaint center, choose credit reporting and then follow the prompts.
If you’re still not getting anywhere, the last option would be to consult with a consumer law attorney. If the creditors and collectors are violating any laws under the Fair Credit Reporting Act or the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you may have a case against them. A consumer law attorney would be able to tell you whether you have a strong case and advise you accordingly. If you do have a strong case, many attorneys will work with you on a contingency basis. To find a consumer law attorney in your area, visit the National Association of Consumer Advocates website.
Identity Theft Cases
Having explained all of this, if the original accounts do not belong to you (not just the negative information), it could be a clear sign of identity theft. In that case, you wouldn’t treat it as a traditional credit report dispute. Instead, you’d need to contact the credit reporting agencies to notify them that you’ve been a victim of identity theft and have a fraud alert placed on your credit file. You only need to contact one of the credit reporting agencies for the fraud alert to be placed on all three of your reports.
Once you’ve notified the credit reporting agencies, you’ll then need to contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a victim’s complaint and create an identity theft affidavit documenting. You’ll also need to file a police report with your local law enforcement office to fully document the theft.
It’s a good idea, whether or not you’re an identity theft victim, to monitor your credit. Any sudden changes in your credit score can signal an error on your credit report or possible identity theft. You can do that through a paid service or for free with the Credit Report Card, which updates your credit scores monthly.