How Do I Remove Identity Theft From My Credit Report?

Removing Identity TheftRemoving Identity TheftIdentity theft is something that most of us think about at some point in our lives. Unfortunately, identity theft is something that is way more common than we think. It affects 1 in 3 Americans at some point in their lives.  1 in 3. Those are not great odds, my friend. So, it becomes extremely important to learn what to do if this happens to you.

There are a few simple steps to take once you realize you have been a victim of identity theft. Breaking these steps down into small tasks makes the tragedy of identity theft much more manageable. The biggest thing to do once you realize you have been a victim of identity theft is to remove identity theft from your credit report.

Here are the steps to take to remove it from your credit report once and for all:

  1. File a report with the credit agencies
  2. Alert the police
  3. Dispute fraudulent accounts
  4. Dispute fraudulent transactions
  5. Place a fraud alert/credit freeze 

File a report with the credit agencies:

The biggest step in getting fraudulent transactions removed from your credit report is by telling the credit agencies themselves! The three main credit agencies, Experian, Transunion, and Equifax can all be alerted of identity theft by sending a letter in the mail.

You can get a free sample letter to send to each credit bureau, as well as their contact information right here!

This is great because once reported, you will have a report for your records indicating you were a victim of identity theft. 

Alert the police: 

Letting law enforcement know that you were a victim of identity theft is very important as well. Though it may not result in removing the effects of identity theft off of your credit report it will, again, provide a paper trail of the incident.

Here is some additional information on why it is so important to file a police report when you have been a victim of identity theft.

Dispute fraudulent accounts:

Identity thieves sometimes like to open new accounts in their victim’s names. Yep, they become dissatisfied with the amount they are able to steal and take their criminal acts to the next level.

Once you determine which accounts were opened fraudulently, you can go straight to the banks or creditors and dispute the accounts that were opened fraudulently in your name. Cancel debit or credit cards, and notify the banks of the identity theft on your credit report.

Dispute fraudulent transactions: 

Disputing fraudulent transactions can be a tedious task. Often times, identity thieves run up tons of bills in your name with many different transactions. Be sure to request statements from your bank so you can break down every transaction you do not recognize.

It may be beneficial to get a print out of bank statements and bills and highlight all fraudulent transactions, so you can make sure every transaction gets properly reported.

Place a fraud alert and credit freeze: 

Make sure no one else can attempt to open accounts in your name. A great way to do this is to place a fraud alert and credit freeze on your accounts.

You can place a fraud alert by contacting one of the three main credit bureaus. If you place a fraud alert at one credit bureau, it will by default, alert the other two.

Experian provides some great information on how to place a credit freeze. You can call or send notification by mail to the main credit bureaus. A credit freeze means that no one can complete a credit inquiry without your personalized PIN number.

So, be diligent in reporting the fraud on your credit report, and over time, your credit report will bounce back.

For assistance with credit repair and building your credit score, contact Credit Absolute for a free consultation. 480-478-4304

Source: creditabsolute.com

How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Protecting Against Identity TheftProtecting Against Identity TheftYou can’t ignore the dangers of identity theft in the digital age. Online management of financial resources has made consumers more vulnerable to hackers and imposters. According to a statement by the Insurance Information Institute, 16.7 million cases of identity theft were reported in 2017. These numbers are not going to decrease any time soon. 30% of US consumers experienced a data breach last year. The US government and consumers should work together to curb the rising crime of identity theft.

What is Modern Day ID Theft?

A data breach or identity theft is an illegal attempt to use someone else’s credentials for fraudulent activities. The US government recognizes identity theft as a Federal crime. Anyone found guilty of identity theft in the US could face jail time of 1-7 years. Identity theft has become a grave concern for consumers. The Consumer Sentinel Network maintains a record of consumer fraud and identity theft in the US. According to them, they received 3 million complaints in 2018 related to identity theft and fraud.

How does Identity Theft Work?

Thieves steal personal data from consumers through various tricks. These tricks range from acquiring bank statements from the mailbox to hacking and online scams. This information gives the thieves access to financial and social accounts of the victims. They use the compromised credentials to gain access to financial accounts.

What is The Use of Stolen Identities

Theives have the intention of using the breached information for fraudulent activities. Imposters use compromised data in the following events.

  • Opening of new financial accounts
  • Getting access to the existing financial accounts
  • Insurance fraud
  • Online shopping from victim’s account
  • Selling victim’s information in the Black Net
  • Using the victim’s identity in criminal activities

Protection from Identity Theft

Identity theft brings a string of interconnected losses and disappointments for victims and their families. It is better to take preventative measures beforehand to protect your data from identity thieves. Identity protection aims to add a series of complicated steps in getting personal information. Remember that identity thieves alway seek easy targets. Anything that does not play by their rules discourages them. You can strategically protect your data by taking these steps.

Use Strong and Different Passwords

Unprotected houses are always robbed first of their valuable items. Similarly, a computer or financial accounts without a strong password attracts identity thieves. A survey report by Experian states that 50% of total US citizens do not add password protection to their digital devices. Lack of password protection makes people an easy target for identity theft.

Moreover, do not make the mistake of using a single password for all of your social and financial accounts. Imposters are going to try their luck on each of your accounts. That is why using different passwords ensures safety to your accounts.

Maintain a Record of Your Financial Activities

Your bank accounts and e-wallets contain your wealth; leaving their activities unrecorded is not a wise move. It is a little difficult for anyone to remember all of their transactions. However, maintaining a record is essential for the protection of your data, and it doesn’t take a lot of time if maintained regularly.

Identity thieves do not make big moves initially. They make gradual advances to take over your financial accounts. A single suspicious transaction can give you a clue of possible theft of your identity.

Avoid Clicking on Malicious Links

Thieves lure their targets by sending them malicious links in emails and text messages.  Breached data gives the hackers control of most of your existing accounts. They can also order new services for them by using your name and money. Never enter your login or bank details to an insecure site. Doing so can make access to your information easy for hackers.

Never Give Away Sensitive Information About Your Financial Accounts On Phone Calls

A call from customer service asking for your PIN Code or social security number is an alarm bell. Nowadays, banks educate consumers to avoid giving login details to anyone on a call. A true representative of your financial institution will never ask sensitive information about your financial accounts.

Thieves seeking information pretend to be part of financial institutions. In the case of getting a suspicious call contact your financial institution and report the suspicious call.

Protect Your Documents with Personal Details

Do not leave hard copies of bank statements and credit card details in your mailbox because ID thieves do not spare your mailbox. For tackling mailbox theft, you can instruct your bank to send soft copies of your bank statements. Moreover, by using the option of particular instructions, you can also fix the delivery time of your documents. In short, never give a chance to the thieves to steal away your information.

Source: creditabsolute.com

Why is it Important to Monitor Your Credit?

Increasing Your Credit ScoreIncreasing Your Credit ScoreA person’s credit scores greatly influence their ability to secure a home loan, rent an apartment, or open a credit card account. Yet, many consumers still fail to keep a watchful eye on their credit report.

Checking up on their credit report may not be a priority, but considering the effect that credit has on a person’s life, consumers have more than one good reason to monitor their credit.

Correct inaccurate information

It is common for people to have inaccurate information reflected on their credit report. Creditors can see a lot of information when they check a person’s credit, from the spelling of their last name to the current balance on a credit card account and the last time the bill was paid. However, if this information is inaccurate, the consumer will have to be the one to get it corrected to ensure the creditor will be able to make an informed decision.

One thing consumers can do is file a dispute. In doing so, the consumer is requesting that the credit bureau investigate the information that has been reported. Typically, within 30 days, the credit bureau can inform the consumer of the results of this investigation and whether the information is valid or needs to be updated.

Protect yourself against fraudulent activity

The number of identity theft victims within the US totaled 14.4 million in 2018, according to Javelin Strategy and Research’s 2019 Identity Fraud Study.  If an account is fraudulently opened in someone’s name, this account will appear on that person’s credit report. Unbeknownst to the consumer, there is someone out their charging thousands of dollars to a credit card with no intention of paying the bill.

Depending on when a person views their credit report, they will be able to see that there is an open account that they didn’t actually open and take action. Alerting credit bureaus of this activity can get the information removed from the credit report, but people should also report this to the FTC and contact the police, as identity theft is a crime.

Avoid unnecessary hard inquiries

Applying for credit will result in a hard inquiry. One or two hard inquiries on a credit report may not impact a person’s score by a lot, but as the number of hard inquiries increases, a person’s score decreases.  Luckily, someone who knows their credit score knows their odds of approval when applying for a personal loan, credit card or another type of credit account.

For example, if a lender requires a borrower to have a score of 650, and an applicant has a score of 600, the chances of denial are high. Should that applicant know beforehand that they do not meet the lender’s minimum credit score requirement, they would be able to find a more suitable option for their credit profile and avoid unnecessary hard inquiries.

Improve/rebuild your credit

Credit reports contain a lot of information about an individual’s finances and credit health. The information that is reported to the credit bureaus is what is used to calculate credit scores, and certain information can cause a person’s score to drop significantly.

When someone monitors their credit, this gives them the opportunity to improve it because they can see what activity is negatively impacting their score. Someone with high credit utilization will be able to determine that using their credit cards less will increase their score. Or that if they avoid applying for credit too often, no new hard inquiries will be listed and decrease their score.

Being in the know is important when it comes to a person’s credit score. Even if they don’t want to monitor their credit on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, obtaining a free credit report every year would still allow them to keep an eye on things and do what is necessary to maintain a healthy credit score.

Source: creditabsolute.com

How to Protect Yourself From Credit Card Theft

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Wise Bread Picks

Last fall, I received an email that appeared to be from my web host. The email claimed that there was a problem with my payment information and asked me to update it. I clicked on the link in the email and entered my credit card number, thinking that a recent change I’d made to my site must have caused a problem.

The next morning, I logged onto my credit card account to find two large unauthorized purchases. A scammer had successfully phished my payment information from me.

This failure of security is pretty embarrassing for a personal finance writer. I know better than to click through an email link claiming to be from my bank, credit card lender, or other financial institution. But because the email came from a source that wasn’t specifically financial (and because I was thinking about the changes I had made to my website just the day before), I let myself get played.

Thankfully, because I check my credit card balance daily, the scammers didn’t get away with it. However, it’s better to be proactive about avoiding credit card theft so you’re not stuck with the cleanup, which took me several months to complete.

Here’s how you can protect yourself from credit card theft. 

Protecting your physical credit card

Stealing your physical credit or debit card is in some respects the easiest way for a scammer to get their hands on your sweet, sweet money. With the actual card in hand, a scammer has all the information they need to make fraudulent purchases: the credit card number, expiration date, and the security code on the back.

That means keeping your physical cards safe is one of the best ways to protect yourself from credit card theft. Don’t carry more cards than you intend to use. Having every card you own in a bulging wallet makes it more likely someone could steal one when you’re not paying attention and you may not realize it’s gone if you have multiple cards.

Another common place where you might be separated from your card is at a restaurant. After you’ve paid your bill, it can be easy to forget if you’ve put away your card (especially if you’ve been enjoying adult beverages). So make it a habit to confirm that you have your card before you leave a restaurant.

If you do find yourself missing a credit or debit card, make sure you call your bank immediately to report it lost or stolen. The faster you move to lock down the card, the less likely the scammers will be able to make fraudulent charges. Make sure you have your bank’s phone number written down somewhere so you’re able to contact them quickly if your card is stolen or lost. (See also: Don’t Panic: Do This If Your Identity Gets Stolen)

Recognizing card skimmers

Credit card thieves also go high-tech to get your information. Credit card skimmers are small devices placed on a legitimate spot for a card scanner, such as on a gas pump or ATM. 

When you scan your card to pay, the skimmer device captures all the information stored in your card’s magnetic stripe. In some cases, when there’s a skimmer placed on an ATM, there’s also a tiny camera set up to record you entering your PIN so the fraudster has all the info they need to access your account.

The good news is that it’s possible to detect a card skimmer in the wild. Gas stations and ATMs are the most common places where you’ll see skimmer devices. Generally, these devices will often stick out past the panel rather than sit flush with it, as the legitimate credit card scanner is supposed to. Other red flags to look for are scanners that seem to jiggle or move slightly instead of being firmly affixed, or a pin pad that appears thicker than normal. All of these can potentially indicate a skimmer is in place. 

If you find something that looks hinky, go to a different gas station or ATM. Better safe than sorry. (See also: 18 Surprising Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen)

Protecting your credit card numbers at home

Your home is another place thieves will go searching for your sensitive information. To start, you likely receive credit card offers, the cards themselves, and your statements in the mail. While mail theft is relatively rare (it’s a federal crime, after all), it’s still a good idea to make sure you collect your mail daily and put a hold on it when you go out of town.

Once you get your card-related paperwork in the house, however, you still may be vulnerable. Because credit card scammers are not above a little dumpster diving to get their hands on your credit card number. This is why it’s a good idea to shred any paperwork with your credit card number and other identifying information on it before you throw it away.

Finally, protecting your credit cards at home also means being wary about whom you share information with over the phone. Unless you’ve initiated a phone call of your own volition — not because you’re calling someone who left a voicemail — you should never share your credit card numbers over the phone. Scammers will pose as customer service agents from your financial institution or a merchant you frequent to get your payment information. To be sure, you can hang up and call the institution yourself using the main phone number.

Keeping your cards safe online

You should never provide your credit card information via a link in an email purporting to be from your financial institution or a merchant. Scammers are able to make their fake emails and websites look legitimate, which was exactly the reason I fell victim to this fraud.

But even with my momentary lapse in judgment about being asked for my payment information from my “web host,” there were other warning signs that I could’ve heeded if I had been paying attention. 

The first is the actual email address. These fake emails will often have a legitimate looking display name, which is the only thing you might see in your email. However, if you hover over or click on the display name, you can see the actual email address that sent you the message. Illegitimate addresses do not follow the same email address format you’ll see from the legitimate company.

In addition to that, looking at the URL that showed up when I clicked the link could’ve told me something weird was going on. Any legitimate site that needs your financial information will have a secure URL to accept your payment. Secure URLs start with https:// (rather than http://) and feature a lock icon in the browser bar. If these elements are missing, then you should not enter your credit card information. (See also: 3 Ways Millennials Can Avoid Financial Fraud)

Daily practices that keep you safe

In addition to these precautions, you can also protect your credit cards with the everyday choices you make. For instance, using strong, unique passwords for all of your online financial services, from shopping to banking, can help you prevent theft. Keeping those strong passwords safe — that is, not written down on a post-it note on your laptop — will also help protect your financial information.

Regularly going over your credit card and banking statements can also help ensure that you’re the only one making purchases with your credit cards. It was this daily habit of mine that made sure my scammers didn’t actually receive the computer they tried to purchase with my credit card. The fact that I check my balance daily meant I was able to shut down the fraudulent sale before they received the goods, even though I fell down on the job of protecting my credit card information. 

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It’s better to be proactive about avoiding credit card theft so you're not stuck with the cleanup. Here's how you can protect yourself from credit card theft. | #Creditcard #creditcardtheft #personalfinances

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How to Contact a Real Person at a Credit Bureau

Contact a Credit Bureau and Talk to a Real Person – SmartAsset

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The information that credit bureaus collect affects just about every aspect of your life. Whether you’re approved for a credit card, get a good mortgage rate, can rent an apartment or even get a job – they all can hinge to varying degrees on your credit score. So when a credit bureau has something wrong, it’s imperative that you tell them. The three major bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – offer online services and prefer that you use their online forms instead of calling. But sometimes you need to talk to a live person. Here’s how to make contact.

Why Would I Need to Contact a Credit Bureau?

The three big credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – create credit reports that reflect consumers’ creditworthiness. The reporting agencies are for-profit businesses and sell their reports to other businesses, such as insurers, credit card companies, banks and employers.

These businesses in turn factor in these credit reports when making decisions such as whether to offer you a credit card and at what interest rate. So it’s  important to monitor your credit reports and make sure the information on them is correct. If you ever find a mistake, you should contact the credit bureau to correct the information. You may also need to contact to a credit bureau if you think that you’re a victim of credit fraud. That could mean placing a fraud alert on your account or freezing your credit so that no one can open a new line of credit in your name.

Talk to a Real Person at Equifax

Equifax has multiple phone numbers that you can use to speak with a real person. The number that you use will depend on what you need help with. We recommend trying to contact the correct number. If you call the wrong number, they will simply say they cannot help you and then direct you to call another number. You can find all of Equifax’s contact information on its website, Equifax.com.

If you want to contact Equifax with a general inquiry, you can reach the company via phone at the number 800-525-6285. Just make sure to call between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

Equifax has also been in the news recently because it suffered a large data breach in 2017. If you have questions about whether your information was compromised in the breach, Equifax has a dedicated phone line at 888-548-7878. Again, be sure to call between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

The table below has some common reasons why you might want to call Equifax and the number that you should call in order to speak with a representative.

How to Speak With a Real Person at Equifax
General inquiries 800-525-6285
Canceling a product or service (Equifax customers) 866-640-2273
Request a copy of your credit report* 866-349-5191
Place a fraud alert on your credit card 800-525-6285
Dispute information in your credit report 866-349-5191
Place, lift or remove a freeze on your credit 888-298-0045
Dedicated phone line for information on the 2017 data breach 888-548-7878

*Don’t forget: You can get a free copy of your credit report three times per year.

Talk to a Real Person at Experian

Experian makes it relatively hard to talk to a real person on the phone. The company encourages people to use its website for most things. However, there are three main phone numbers that you should know if you want to talk to someone at Experian.

Call 888-397-3742 if you want to order a credit report or if you have any questions related to fraud and identity theft. The number 888-397-3742-6 (1-888-EXPERIAN) will also work. You can place an immediate fraud/security alert on your credit with this number.

If you have a question about something on a recent credit report (such as incorrect information), you will need to have a copy of the credit report. On the report you will find a 10-digit number. This number is different for each credit report and you will need it for the representative to help with any issues related to your specific report. Once you have that number ready, you can call 714-830-7000 with questions about your report.

If you need help with anything related to your membership account with Experian, you should call the company’s customer service at 479-343-6239. You will need to call while the Experian office is open in order to speak with someone. The hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, Monday to Friday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, Saturday and Sunday.

How to Speak With a Real Person at Experian
Buying a credit report,
Placing a fraud alert on your credit file
888-397-3742 or
888-397-37426 (888-EXPERIAN)
Question about a recent credit report 714-830-7000
Question about Experian membership account 479-343-6239

Talk to a Real Person at TransUnion

TransUnion has one general support number that you can use to talk to a human for help with your credit report (such as to dispute information, freeze your account, or report fraud), your credit score or any general questions. That number is 833-395-693800.

Note that a human representative is only available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET,  Monday through Friday.

You will hear an automated service when you first call this number. Press 4 in order to speak with a representative. Then you will need to press 1 if you have a TransUnion File Number or 2 if you do not have a number.

A TransUnion File Number is a unique identification number that you can find in the top right of your TransUnion credit report. You do not need a number to speak with a representative, but you will need it to do anything related specifically to your credit report. For example, the file number is necessary for disputing incorrect information.

The Takeaway

If you ever need to buy a credit report or address an issue on your report, you will need to contact a credit bureau. Each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, has a website where you can do most things you may need to do. In fact, they prefer that you use online forms instead of calling. But sometimes it’s comforting to speak with a real person who can answer your specific questions.

The first step is figure out what phone number you need. The credit bureaus all have multiple numbers. Not all of the numbers will allow you to solve your specific issue. Of course once you have the right number, you will also need some patience. Hold times can be long, particularly during the coronavirus slow-down. The credit bureaus have also experienced higher phone traffic since the Equifax breach in 2017.

Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

  • Correcting inaccuracies on your credit report by contacting a credit bureau can help to improve your credit score. Another potential way to improve your score is to get another credit card. It will increase your available credit and improve your credit utilization ratio. You can find the best card for you with our credit card tool. Of course, you should only get another card if you can responsibly handle the credit you already have.
  • One good piece of credit card advice is always to avoid as many fees as possible. Fees can make it harder for you to keep your spending down. Higher bills, in turn, could be harder for you to pay back in full. Here are 15 credit card fees that you should avoid.
  • It can be tempting to keep swiping your credit card, but make a budget and stick to it. A financial advisor can help you create a road map to make sure you’re hitting your goals and not getting into debt. SmartAsset’s free matching tool can help you find a person to work with. It will connect you with up to three advisors in your area.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Milkos, ©iStock.com/sturti, ©iStock.com/fstop123

Lucy Lazarony Lucy Lazarony has been writing about personal finance for more than a decade. Lucy’s a credit card expert. She is a freelance writer and award-winning journalist living in South Florida. Lucy earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. Her work is featured on Credit.com, CardRatings.com, MoneyRates.com and Art Hive Magazine.
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