How to Report Identity Theft to Credit Bureaus

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  • How to Report Identity Theft to Credit Bureaus
12 Jun, 2024
Daniel Cohen
5 min
271
man holding a phone tries to report identity theft by phone

Notifying credit agencies is an essential first step when you’re the victim of identity theft. Here’s the best way to do it.

That first awareness that you have become the latest victim of identity theft is an awful feeling. The specific circumstances of your situation will determine how you spend the next weeks, months, or years. But no matter what, you need to notify the consumer reporting agencies (credit bureaus). Here’s how to do it quickly and effectively.

Discovering that you have been the victim of identity theft is one of the most stressful things a person can experience. At the outset of such a discovery, you have no idea of the extent of the damage, when it happened, who did it, and how long it will take to get fixed. But you know that it could get really bad. As identity theft attorneys, we can confirm that without quick and effective action, identity theft will be really bad. 

But first, take a deep breath. 

Then report it to everyone to whom it needs to be reported. Start with the three major consumer reporting agencies. Keep reading to learn how. 

The Initial Report

If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, you need to contact the Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) immediately. The good news is that you don't need to contact all three bureaus separately. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), once you report the theft to one of the credit bureaus, that bureau must inform the other two. This ensures that a fraud alert is placed on your credit report by all three bureaus. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Choose One Bureau to Contact. 
    1. Equifax: Call 1-800-525-6285 or visit their website.
    2. Experian: Call 1-888-397-3742 or visit their website.
    3. TransUnion: Call 1-800-680-7289 or visit their website.
  2. Request a Fraud Alert. When you call, ask the bureau to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This alert makes it harder for identity thieves to open more accounts in your name as it sends a signal to businesses to confirm with you that you are applying for credit. A fraud alert is free, lasts for one year, and must be renewed when it expires at the end of that year. 
  3. Get a Copy of Your Credit Report. Once the fraud alert or credit freeze is in place, request a credit report from each of the three CRAs. Check these reports for any accounts or transactions you don’t recognize.

Starting with a single bureau saves time and ensures that your alert is applied across the board quickly.

Identity Theft Rights Under the FCRA

The FCRA gives you specific rights to protect yourself if your identity is stolen. Understanding these rights can help you take control of the situation. Here are some key points:

  • Fraud Alerts. As mentioned, you can place a fraud alert on your credit reports. There are different types of alerts:
    • An initial fraud alert lasts for one year and is ideal if you suspect you're a victim of identity theft.
    • An extended fraud alert lasts for seven years and is available if you've confirmed you are a victim of identity theft and have filed a report with a government agency.
  • Free Credit Reports. The FCRA says you’re entitled to an extra free copy of your credit report from each bureau every twelve months. That practice has since evolved so that you can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three big CRAs every week. 
  • Disputing Errors. If you find unauthorized accounts or inaccurate information on your report, you can dispute it. The CRAs are legally obligated to investigate and remove inaccurate information.

These rights help you manage your credit and prevent further misuse of your identity.

The Differences Between a Credit Freeze, Credit Lock, and Fraud Alert

The CRAs will place a fraud alert on your credit report. That might be enough - depending on the circumstances of the identity theft. Understanding the differences between a credit lock, credit freeze, and fraud alert can help you choose the best protection for your situation.

SecurityWhat It IsWho It's ForHow to Do It
Credit FreezeA credit freeze restricts access to your credit report, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Most creditors need to see your credit report before opening a new account. If they can't see it, they may not extend credit.A credit freeze is best if you have confirmed your identity has been stolen or want high protection against identity theft.You must request a separate credit freeze at each credit bureau. It’s free to place and lift a freeze.
Credit LockLike a credit freeze, a credit lock restricts access to your credit report but usually comes with an app that allows you to lock and unlock your credit easily.A credit lock is good for people who want the protection of a freeze with the convenience of quickly locking and unlocking their credit.Credit locks may be part of a subscription service with the credit bureaus.
Fraud AlertA fraud alert tells businesses that check your credit to verify your identity before opening a new account. It’s less drastic than a freeze or lock.A fraud alert is suitable if you want to protect yourself but don’t believe your identity theft risk is high enough to need a freeze.

Contact one bureau to place an alert, and it will notify the others.

 

 

Choosing the right protection depends on your specific situation and how much risk you perceive. In many cases, starting with a fraud alert is sufficient. The attorneys at Consumer Attorneys can help you determine which is best for you. 

How Consumer Attorneys Can Help

Dealing with identity theft can be overwhelming and confusing. This is where Consumer Attorneys come in. We can explain your rights and the steps you must take next, help you dispute unauthorized charges and accounts opened by thieves, work with CRAs to remove erroneous information from your credit report (and hold them accountable if they don’t), and represent you if legal action is necessary. 

This is what we do and we have decades of experience doing it. We offer legal advice, advocacy, and support so you can recover from identity theft with as little stress as possible.

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Daniel Cohen is the Founding Partner of Consumer Attorneys
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Daniel Cohen
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Daniel Cohen is the Founder of Consumer Attorneys. Daniel manages the firm’s branding, marketing, client intake and business development efforts. Since 2017, he is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the National Consumer Law Center. Mr. Cohen is a nationally-recognized practitioner of consumer protection law. He has a wealth of proven legal experience in the US in: collective claims, representing visually impaired people who believe their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act have been violated in both the physical and digital environments, corporate governance and dispute resolution. Read more

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