You may have heard by now that, should you discover an error or, worse, a fraudulent account on your credit report, you need to immediately contact the major credit reporting agency and creditor in question to have it removed or reversed. Notifying the bureau can be often be fairly straightforward, given their contact information is often available on the credit report already in hand or via their website. (It helps that consumers can also file disputes through AnnualCreditReport.com and all three agencies currently allow consumers to upload supporting documentation when they file disputes online.)
Under federal law, once a dispute has been formally filed, credit bureaus generally have 30 days to investigate your claim and remove the item, unless, of course, they believe the dispute to be frivolous. (You can learn more about why errors often appear on your credit report and how to go about getting them removed on Credit.com.)
But What About Your Creditors?
While their specific processes may vary, financial institutions follow similar parameters when it comes to dealing with reports of fraud, identity theft and other disputes, said Nessa Feddis, senior vice president and deputy chief counsel at the American Bankers Association.
This is partially because the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires data furnishers (aka your bank or credit card issuer) provide accurate information to credit reporting agencies and also that they investigate consumer disputes regarding said info. If you’re disputing an item with the creditor directly, they, like the bureaus, have 30 days to investigate and respond. If the creditor is notified about a dispute by the credit reporting agency, they generally have to work within the 30-day window kicked off by the consumers’ contact with the credit bureau, per the Federal Trade Commission.
Keep in mind, financial institutions must also abide by Regulation Z or the Truth in Lending Act, Feddis said, which protects you against unauthorized purchases and limits credit cardholders’ fraud liability to $50.
Getting the Problem Solved
Once you spot errors on your credit report or fraudulent information on your credit card statements, you should immediately notify your issuer. Their contact information should be on your credit card or the financial institution’s website. Some issuers may have designated landing pages or hotlines for fraud complaints, Feddis said. You might also be able to dispute a fraudulent charge directly on your online statement or account, with the financial institution potentially allowing you to upload supporting documentation regarding your dispute. Some banks or issuers may also follow up with requests for supporting documentation once the dispute has been filed.
Whether you’re making a phone call or filling out paperwork online, “typically, it’s not a bad idea to follow up in writing,” Feddis said.
If you’re having difficulty getting an issue resolved, you can escalate your dispute by filing what’s known as an executive complaint, said Thomas Nitzsche of ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions.
“You send a notification to the office of the president of whatever company you’re dealing with,” he said. This information, too, should be available somewhere on the financial institution’s website. These complaints generally get forwarded to a “special group that handles escalated complaints,” Nitzsche said. “You’re going to have a lot better luck if you go that route, if it really was an error.”
Consumers struggling to get legitimate errors fixed can also consider contacting outside agencies, like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, their state Attorney General or a consumer attorney, to get the issue resolved, he said.
As always, it helps if you contact financial institutions as soon as the error occurs. That’s why it’s so important to continually monitor your statements and your credit reports. You can check your credit by pulling your credit reports for free each year on AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.
More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:
- What’s a Good Credit Score?
- How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report
- How Do I Dispute an Error on My Credit Report?