Identity Theft and Credit Report Errors
Identity theft affects millions of Americans each year. Unfortunately, many individuals do not become aware that they have been victimized until they apply for a loan and a credit report reveals a problem. When an identity thief illegally obtains credit and makes purchases under someone’s name, the seller reasonably assumes the person whose identity was hijacked is financial responsible for the debt.
A clever identity thief will request that bills be sent to another address to prevent the victim from discovering the fraud for as long as possible. When the identity theft victim fails to pay the bill that he or she never received, the seller or credit issuer will report the account as delinquent to consumer reporting agencies (also known as “credit bureaus”). When the identity theft victim applies for a loan, the bank or credit bureau will not be able to verify the accuracy of the reported information and the loan application will be denied.
Inaccurate negative information can seriously erode an identity theft victim’s perceived creditworthiness and result in a lower credit score. The lingering damage to your credit reputation from this situation can haunt you for years.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
Identity thieves use a number of tactics to gain access to credit cards and bank accounts including stealing your credit and debit cards or even your mail containing financial statements and tax information. Another common scam involves skimming information at an ATM. Finally, remote technology enables identity thieves to steal your personal financial information by hacking into your computer or the computers of the companies with whom you do business.
High Profile Cases of Identity Theft
Recent news reports have been filled with stories of massive data breaches at financial institutions, national retail stores, and consumer products companies:
JP Morgan Chase
JP Morgan Chase, acknowledged a massive data breach in 2014 that affected that affected 76 million households and 7 million small businesses. Hackers obtained personal information, such as customer names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.
In 2014, Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement chain, confirmed that 56 million credit and debit cards had been affected by a data breach and that hackers had also stolen 53 million email addresses.
In December 2014, hackers leaked five unreleased movies online and some employees’ Social Security numbers. A significant number of files containing Social Security numbers were accompanied by other personal information, such as full names, dates of birth, and home addresses, increasing the chances of identity fraud.
Wide Scale Data Breaches in New York
Between 2006 and 2014, the New York Attorney General found that 22.8 million private records of New Yorkers were exposed due to data breaches over the last eight years. The data breaches were reported by over 3,000 businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. Intentional hacking exposed most of the accounts, accounting for 40 percent of the 5,000 incidents. Lost or stolen equipment, insider wrongdoing, and inadvertent errors were also major factors.
How Can I Tell if my Identity Has Been Stolen?
There are a number of signs that may indicate your identity has been stolen. The first is being turned down for credit based on inaccurate information in your credit report. You also may notice that you do not receive bills and other financial statements as a result of a thief having changed the address on your accounts. Other indications of identity theft include missing checks from a checkbook or withdrawals from your account that you do not recognize. Ultimately, you are likely to be contacted by a debt collection agency regarding these “debts.”
You Must Take Action to Repair Your Credit
You must take action to restore accuracy to your credit report. The three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) are required by the FCRA provide consumers with a free annual credit report upon request.
How to Obtain Your Credit Reports for Free
The law allows you to order your credit report from each of the national consumer reporting agencies every 12 months. One effective strategy is to order one free report every four months from one of the three credit bureaus, rotating the selected bureau every four months. This allows you to get a free snapshot of your credit history on a rolling basis, even though each bureau does not contain identical data. The recommended way to obtain a free credit report is by visiting annualcreditreport.com
What Can I Do If My Identity is Stolen?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provides powerful remedies to identity theft victims harmed by inaccurate information on a credit report. Identity theft victims can sue the credit bureaus to recover actual damages which include compensation for financial harm and even for emotional suffering resulting from violations under the FCRA.
Under the FCRA, credit reporting agencies must adopt procedures to assure “maximum possible accuracy” of the information in a consumer report and to “exercise their grave responsibilities with fairness, impartiality, and a respect for the consumer’s right to privacy.”
If there is inaccurate information on your credit report, an attorney can assist in disputing that information, particularly when it is the result of identity theft. If the errors still remain uncorrected, you may be entitled to sue for a corrected report and compensation.
How to Retain Our Firm to Represent You, without Paying Attorney’s Fees
If you suspect identity theft has damaged your credit reports, contact us as soon as possible so we can take immediate action to prevent further damage to your credit. The Law Office of Adam G. Singer, PLLC has extensive expertise in investigating identity theft. We will protect your rights by disputing inaccurate information resulting from identity theft and may sue the parties responsible for compensation. In addition to recovering actual and punitive damages, a court must award reasonable attorney’s fees to identity theft victims harmed by credit report errors. In fact, if we represent you in an identity theft case, our fees will only be paid if you are awarded damages.