Identity theft debt collection causes millions of Americans undue financial and emotional hardship every year. Debt collectors can be ruthless in their efforts to collect debt and are often skeptical and unsympathetic when a consumer claims to be a victim of identity theft. Restoring your credit after your identity is stolen can take time, money, and effort but is not impossible if you are diligent and persistent. If you are a victim of identity theft, here are a few basic but critical steps you can take to repair your stolen credit.
Set Initial Fraud Alerts
Contact at least one major credit bureau (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion) and set an initial fraud alert. The initial fraud alert is only good for 90 days but can stop identity theft from continuing while you take the next steps. You actually only need to contact one credit bureau as the credit bureaus are required to report the initial fraud alert to the other bureaus, but to be sure the initial fraud alert is set you may want to contact more than one bureau. It is free to set initial fraud alerts.
Pull Your Credit Reports
Once you have set the initial fraud alert, pull a copy of your credit reports. Identity theft victims can get the credit reports for free and it doesn’t hurt your credit score to pull your own credit report so don’t hesitate to pull it. There might be other identity theft debts on your reports so you need to check each of them before moving on to the next steps.
File an Identity Theft Report with the Police
Be sure to also quickly report the identity theft to the police and file a police report. Provide law enforcement as much information as possible and maintain a copy of your identity theft law enforcement report. The report should also contain the name of the officer that took the report and a case number. You will be expected to sign the identity theft report under oath and penalty of perjury so be sure all the information you provide is accurate or you could be held criminally responsible.
Complete an Identity Theft Affidavit
The FTC has an identity theft affidavit that most creditors and debt collectors will honor. Some require their own forms but if those forms request information different from the FTC identity theft affidavit, check with a credit attorney to be sure you don’t waive any rights by using that form. In most cases, the FTC identity theft affidavit is the appropriate form to use. Be sure to have the FTC identity theft affidavit notarized. Most creditors and debt collectors require notarization before they will accept it.
Dispute the Identity Theft Debt
Your next step is to dispute the identity theft debt in writing. Don’t just call the debt collector or creditor. You need a paper trail to show that you informed them the debt was the result of identity theft. Include a copy of your police report and FTC identity theft affidavit with your dispute letter. Once the debt collector or creditor knows the debt is the result of identity theft they must stop collecting it. If they do not, they will be in violation of several state and federal debt collection and credit reporting laws.
Dispute the Credit Listing of the Identity Theft Debt
Many debt collectors and creditors will report the identity theft debt to the credit bureaus. If so, the debt will usually lower your credit score unfairly. Debt that results from identity theft should not count against your credit score or factor into determining your creditworthiness. Send the major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) a dispute letter explaining that the debt is the result of identity theft. Include a copy of your FTC identity theft affidavit and police report with your credit bureau dispute letters for best results.
Set Extended Fraud Alerts
Once you have your police report and FTC identity theft affidavit, you should contact the credit bureaus and set an extended fraud alert. The extended fraud alert is similar to the initial fraud alert but lasts for seven years so it provides you additional protection from identity theft for a longer period of time.
Pull Your Credit Reports
You should pull your credit reports periodically to be sure no other identity theft debts appear later. Even with the initial fraud alerts and extended fraud alerts, some identity theft can still occur, though it is relatively rare. Pull your credit reports every three to six months for at least the first year to be sure no other instances of identity theft have occurred. If you do find additional identity theft debt in these periodic reviews, you will have to walk through each of these steps again to repair your credit and stop the collections.
Identity theft debt can be stressful and difficult to repair but following these steps is an effective way to repair your credit and stop collections of the identity theft debt.