Yes, credit reporting agencies have committed to helping victims of identity theft, but you'll need to follow some basic rules. According to officials at the Identity Theft Assistance Center, your mother has joined the ranks of consumers who have had their financial lives disrupted by someone who exploited another person's good credit. ITAC officials say that identity theft goes far beyond the common explanation of a criminal grabbing personal details from garbage bins. Your mother could have been duped by someone close to her, or could have been victimized by computer malware that seized her financial records. Identity theft can go undetected for years. A recent CFPB study revealed that only about 1 in 5 Americans check their credit reports each year, even though federal law requires credit reporting agencies to make them available at no charge at least once every twelve months. For your mother to successfully remove that gas card from her credit history, she should follow these steps:
- Request free credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies. She can do this at AnnualCreditReport.com. (She'll be entitled to additional free reports during the year if she has been denied credit because of the fraud.)
- Download the Federal Trade Commission's free identity theft affidavit. It's a straightforward form that will streamline the rest of the reporting process. Account information from your mother's credit report will help complete this step.
- File a police report. Without law enforcement verification, a creditor or collections agency might assume that your mother is claiming identity theft just to get out of paying a bad credit card debt. In most places, submitting a copy of the FTC's affidavit replaces a lengthy interview or additional paperwork.
- Use each credit bureau's online tool to file an initial dispute. This is the fastest and most reliable way to notify the credit reporting agencies about identity theft. Flag the complaint appropriately, so her case doesn't get misclassified as a collectable debt. Include the police report number in your complaint.
- Submit your affidavit directly to creditors. Don't wait for credit reporting agencies to complete their own investigations. Send a brief cover letter, like the one suggested by consumer advocates at NEDAP.org.