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It’s certainly a daunting prospect: You pull your credit reports only to discover that a history of credit applications for places you’ve never, ever been. Or, worse, accounts you don’t recognize have been opened in your name.
One Credit.com commenter appears to be facing a variant of this issue.
“My credit report says that I have applied for credit in places I know that I didn’t apply for,” they wrote. “How can it be removed?”
Mysterious credit inquiries or accounts on a credit report are considered signs of identity theft. Now, there’s a chance that another mistake has been made — maybe our commenter’s credit file got mixed with someone else’s. Maybe a data furnisher really (really, really) screwed up. In any event, the first step to getting erroneous inquiries or fraudulent accounts removed is to dispute them with the credit bureaus.
But, given the potential severity of the situation, it’s also a good idea for our commenter to call up the creditors associated with the unfamiliar applications. (Contact information should be listed on the credit report, but, if not, they can try searching for the company online.) That can help them pin down if identity theft is, in fact, occurring. And, if it is, there are few more steps they might want to consider taking to protect themselves.
Here are some best practices for people who have reason to believe their identity has been stolen.
1. Pull Your Major Credit Reports
You can get one free credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com, and, if you’ve spotted fraudulent accounts on one of them, it’s a good idea to pull the others. Not all creditors report to all three big guys, and you’ll want to make sure to catch all the fraud that may be occurring.
Remember, the three major credit reporting agencies are independent of each other, so even if you see the exact same error on all three reports, you need to send dispute letters and evidence of the error to each bureau. (You can go here to learn more about disputing errors on your credit reports.)
2. File a Police Report
Identity theft is a crime and, even if the police can’t catch the thief right away, filing a report can help you make a case against the thief down the line — and can be instrumental in getting the items removed from your credit report.
3. Contact the Federal Trade Commission
You can file a complaint with the government agency at IdentityTheft.gov. The site also provides checklists and sample letters that can help in the recovery process.
4. Write Everything Down
As you work to have inquiries or fraudulent accounts removed, log all the calls you make to creditors, police officers, credit bureau representatives and other agencies. Also, keep every document you have regarding the fraud. Again, these records can be instrumental in getting the information off your credit reports.
5. Seriously Consider a Credit Freeze
This will deny access to your credit to all but your current creditors and, as such, will prevent new credit accounts from being taken out in your name. You can learn more about credit freezes here.
6. Monitor Your Credit
That way, you can readily spot any new fraudulent accounts and keep track of your progress as you work to get the accounts off of your credit file. (You can get some help monitoring your credit by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.)