When I woke up on Saturday morning and looked at my phone, one of my worst fears was realized. Overnight, somebody had tried to open two credit cards using my personal information, a clear indicator that I was a victim of identity theft. I only knew that something had happened because I had alerts from multiple credit monitoring services, notifying me that I had two new hard inquiries on my credit reports. Time is of the essence when it comes to fraud of any kind, so I immediately got to work trying to remedy the situation. Here’s how I was able to stop the fraudsters from getting further and repair my credit reports.
DON’T WASTE TIME ON CALLS TO VENDORS
The first thing I did was to call the two lenders that had made hard inquiries on my credit reports to figure out what was going on. In my case, these two lenders were Capital One and Discover. Immediately I discovered that neither of their customer support lines was set up to handle a non-account holder trying to investigate potential fraud.
When I finally made it through the long phone trees to speak with someone, they were confused as to what to do since I didn’t have any accounts on file with them. Explaining that I was the victim of identity theft and that I had hard inquiries from their companies on my credit reports didn’t help. In the end, I learned I would have to wait for the banks to open the credit lines and mail the cards to the fraudsters before I would be able to report the fraud to them.
This was incredibly frustrating and did not seem to do me much good. As you’ll see, if you read to the end, my fraud alerts were what saved me!
FREEZE YOUR CREDIT
Immediately after speaking with Capital One and Discover and getting nowhere, I loaded up the websites for Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Freezing your credit so that no new inquiries can be made is relatively easy after the 2017 Equifax data breach, and while it would not help me with my current situation, it would prevent inquiries from being made in the future.
By the way, Experian has two options for handling a situation like this. You can either freeze or lock your credit, or both. A credit freeze is the standard, federally required option, but if you want additional security, you can lock your credit by paying them a monthly fee of $4.99. I don’t think the extra level of protection is necessary and opted for the basic freeze.
PLACE A FRAUD ALERT ON YOUR CREDIT REPORTS
The next thing I did was to put a fraud alert on my credit reports. I learned that if you file a one-year fraud alert at one of the three credit bureaus, they are legally required to share that information with the other two. This is not the case with longer-term fraud alerts, or alerts as a result of active duty in the armed services. The TransUnion and Experian websites made it difficult to activate a one-year fraud alert, so I used the Equifax site. It took just a few minutes and showed up on my other credit reports within forty-eight hours.
Monitor your credit and secure your finances with our modern debit card.
Protect Your Identity with Edge Pay
Monitor your credit and secure your finances with our modern debit card.
REMOVE HARD INQUIRIES FROM YOUR CREDIT REPORTS
Now I wanted to get the hard inquiries off of my credit reports. This type of inquiry is bad for your credit and, given that it was the result of fraudulent activity, I didn’t want the inquiry hanging around for the next two years. The only problem is that the credit bureaus, though they proclaim to offer easy solutions for disputing accounts, can make removing inquiries a bear.
Take TransUnion for example. Their dispute center gives you quick and easy buttons to select which accounts you’d like to dispute. In order to dispute an inquiry though, you’ve got to call them. At least that is what their website says! I’ll save you some time though; their website is wrong. After going through thirty minutes of phone trees, an agent told me that I would have to mail them some documents via USPS in order to dispute a hard inquiry. The documents needed are a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) identity theft report, a copy of your driver’s license, a copy of your credit report, a letter explaining the dispute that includes your credit report number, and a copy of the Fair Credit Reporting Act Section 605B. Save time by using the FTC template provided at the end of this article.
Initially, I thought Equifax was a little better because they did have the option to dispute a hard inquiry, but a few days later when my dispute was resolved with no changes to my credit report, I learned that actually, you have to mail them similar documents to those that TransUnion requires, including the same Federal Trade Commission (FTC) identity theft report, a copy of your driver’s license, a copy of your social security card, a copy of your credit report, a letter explaining the dispute, and a copy of the Fair Credit Reporting Act Section 605B.
Finally, Experian. Could I dispute the inquiries online? No, that was not an option. However, I could call them during business hours and file disputes over the phone. I called (855) 414-6048 and was able to quickly file a dispute for both fraudulent inquiries and two addresses that were inaccurate. It took seventeen minutes and within two hours the inquiries were gone.
After all of this was done and I was beginning to calm down, I received a call from Capital One! Somehow the fraudulent account had not yet been opened and in the process of opening the account, the representative saw the fraud report I had placed on my credit reports. I confirmed that it was a case of fraud, and the account representative denied the application and submitted a letter of removal to the credit bureaus on my behalf. If I hadn’t taken action right away, the very moment I woke up, the fraudulent account would have been opened!
Fast forward to Monday, and I was the happy recipient of a phone call from Discover, asking me if the application for a credit card was legit or the reported fraud on my credit report. I immediately informed the representative that it was a case of fraud and to shut down the application.
PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM FRAUD
Becoming a victim of identity theft is scary. Fortunately, fraud alerts can make it easy to act immediately when fraudulent activity has taken place, so if you are going to take any one action to protect yourself, I would suggest setting up alerts. To help make it easier for you to navigate the system, I’ve collected some resources I wish I had had on hand when this happened to me:
FTC FRAUD REPORT: You can submit an FTC fraud report here. They direct you to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau where you can fill in the necessary information needed to alert authorities to your situation. This is an optional step but could help. The bureau will lend this report to the vendors who have pulled your credit to let them know your identity was stolen.
IDENTITY THEFT REPORT: You’ll need to file an FTC identity theft report here, which you can print off and include with your letter and other documents listed below. The process for reporting a hard inquiry was difficult to follow. Here is the path I took: Get Started > Someone has my information and tried to use it, and I’m worried about identity theft. > Debit or credit card information > No > Yes, someone used my information to make purchases or open accounts. > Credit card accounts > to open a fraudulent credit card account.
IDENTITY THEFT LETTER TEMPLATE: The FTC has an identity theft letter template you can download here. Once you fill out this template and print it out, you will include it in the packet with the documents listed for each bureau below. The addresses for each bureau are included in the template. This website also includes a copy of the Fair Credit Reporting Act Section 605B. I confirmed the addresses in the template were accurate, although the pieces of information the FTC suggested I include were different for each credit bureau, something I learned by speaking with them. These are the documents you’ll need to include for each bureau.
- Equifax requires an FTC identity theft report, a copy of your driver’s license, a copy of your social security card, a letter of explanation for the dispute you are filing, and a copy of the Fair Credit Reporting Act Section 605B.
- TransUnion needs an FTC identity theft report, a copy of your driver’s license, a copy of your credit report, a letter explaining the dispute that includes your credit report number, and a copy of the Fair Credit Reporting Act Section 605B.
- Experian can be contacted by phone.
Worried about Your Credit?
This eBook can help you protect and improve your score.