Identity theft is occurring more often, due in part to the recent data breaches with merchants, hospitals, and various websites. Identity theft also results from so-called “phishing scams,” in which the victim is tricked into revealing personal information. Even if you do business only with trusted companies, and you keep your personal information to yourself, you should still be aware of the following signs of identity theft:
- You see withdrawals from your bank account that you cannot explain.
- You suddenly stop receiving your bills or other mail.
- Merchants refuse your checks.
- Debt collectors call you about debts that are not yours.
- You identify unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
- Medical providers bill you for services you did not use.
- Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because their records indicate that you have reached your benefits limit.
- A health plan will not cover you because your medical records show a condition that you do not have.
- The Internal Revenue Service notifies you that more than one tax return has been filed in your name, or that you had income from an employer for whom you do not work.
- You receive a notice that your information has been com promised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.*
* Source: Federal Trade Commission
The best way to beat identity theft is to catch it early, and the best way to accomplish this is by reviewing your credit report as often as you can. Each year you are entitled to receive a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). By contacting only one agency at a time, you may spread this out by receiving one credit report every four months. The only website sanctioned by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is www.annualcreditreport.com. A link to each one of the three credit reporting agencies can be found on the FTC website. Other websites that advertise free credit reports will give you your first credit report for free, but will then start billing your credit card for any additional credit reports ordered.
Occasionally, you may have a genuine dispute with a furnisher of credit report information, such as a merchant. Perhaps you returned an item of clothing; the merchant failed to provide you with the proper credit, and has now inadvertently reported it on your credit report. This is where the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) may be helpful. To correct errors on your credit report, take the following steps:
Step 1: Submit a dispute to both the credit reporting agency and to the source of the incorrect information (the merchant or furnisher).
Step 2: Visit the CFPB website at www.consumerfinance.gov, click “Submit a Complaint,” and then click “Get Started.”
With this complaint, you may attach documents, such as statements, contracts, receipts, and letters to help the CFPB better understand your issue. Once you have begun the complaint process, be sure to indicate that you have already submitted a dispute with the credit reporting agency and/or merchant, if you have in fact done so. This will prevent the CFPB from mistakenly believing that you have two complaints instead of one.
Once completed and submitted, your complaint will be forwarded to the three credit reporting agencies that will be required to furnish your complaint, along with any other information you have provided, to the merchant or furnisher of information.
The federal government recognizes the severity of the identity theft problem, however identity thieves are becoming more sophisticated, requiring all of us to be vigilant in protecting our identities and credit.
Linda Davis Friedland is an attorney in our Livonia office where she concentrates her practice on commercial litigation, employment and labor law, corporate and business law, estate planning, utilities Law and municipal Law. She may be reached at (734) 261-2400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.