If you discover a fraudulent item on your credit report, typically caused by identity theft, you’ll likely want it gone as quickly as possible — especially if you’re looking to improve your credit score for a big purchase or to get better terms on a new credit card.
But getting that error removed isn’t easy.
“Removal of any item from your credit report can be difficult and time-consuming,” John C. Heath, credit expert and attorney with Lexington Law, a Credit.com partner, said in an email. “With a listing that is caused by identity theft, you are dealing with an item that, frustratingly, is not yours.”
Heath said it can take a month or longer to get your credit report fixed after fraud.
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, here are the four steps Heath recommends taking to get the fraud removed from your credit report as quickly as possible.
1. File a Police Report
It’s a good idea to alert the authorities as soon as you discover a problem, which you can do by filing a police report detailing the identity theft identity. When you dispute the charges and any related information on your credit report, showing the police report may help.
2. Request Credit Bureaus Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report
“As soon as you suspect you might be a victim of fraud, you should place an initial fraud alert on your credit file,” Denise Norgle, vice president and general counsel at TransUnion, said in an email. “The fraud alert requires creditors verify that you are the person adding new credit accounts or changing limits on existing credit accounts by contacting you at a phone number you have provided.”
You can set up a fraud alert with one of the three major credit reporting agencies — TransUnion, Experian and Equifax — and that bureau will notify the other two. (This is different from a credit freeze, which you need set up with each individual credit reporting agency.)
3. Verify the Alert Was Placed
Many people often file the request and then don’t follow up, but Heath says this is a mistake. After placing the alert with the bureaus, give it a week or so and then verify the alert was actually noted on your report.
“With something as important as your credit … it’s always good to make sure that the credit bureau has followed through with your request for a fraud alert,” Heath said. “As we all know, mistakes are made.”
4. Challenge Incorrect Items on Your Credit Report
To get the errant information removed, you’ll want to dispute any charges or accounts that aren’t yours. (Read this guide to find out more about how to dispute errors on your credit report.) Heath suggests providing any supporting documentation that helps verify the fraudulent charges and accounts. The law mandates the credit reporting agencies address disputes within 30 days of filing, and they will notify you when your dispute results are complete.
After you’ve repaired any damage from the identity theft, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on your credit report in case it happens again.
“It’s important to monitor your credit report for signs of fraud, such as accounts or addresses you don’t recognize,” Norgle said. (You can do this by getting your free annual credit reports every year and get a free credit report summary each month on Credit.com to see how your score improves once the fraud is removed.)
More on Identity Theft:
- How Can You Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?
- What Should I Do If I’m a Victim of Identity Theft?
- How Credit Impacts Your Day-to-Day Life