Identity Theft – Know Your Rights

Have you experienced that clutch of fear that makes your heart skip a beat when you all of a sudden discover your wallet is missing? Your first reaction might be a cuss word for carrying all that critical information in the first place. Your second is to try to slow your mind as it frantically scans for solutions. Knowing what to do if you lose vital information and knowing your rights if you become a victim of identity theft will save you time, money and a ton of stress.

A consumer survey conducted by the Federal Trade Commission reveals, in a new report, that many identity theft victims do not understand their rights. Following is a summary of what you should know if you become the unfortunate victim of identity theft.

  • Fraud Alert. Placing a fraud alert on your credit file with the three credit bureaus (CRA’s) is the first step and may prevent identity theft if done timely. It’s important to file with each of the bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Although each of the bureaus claims it will notify the other two, it may take weeks or longer and you have no time to lose.Once a fraud alert is placed on your account, you should be contacted by phone by any lenders to confirm that you truly do want to open a new account. Any consumer who has a good faith suspicion that they have been, or are about to become, a victim of identity theft may place a fraud alert on their credit files. Such alerts notify potential creditors that consumers may have been a victim of fraud and that special care should be taken to verify the consumers’ identity before extending new or additional credit. It’s important to follow up after your request and verify with each CRA that it has, in fact, placed a fraud alert on your file. See the final bullet point about freezing your credit for additional protection.
  • Free Credit Report. When a consumer places a fraud alert, she has a right to request a free credit report from each of the CRA’s. These credit reports are separate from, and in addition to, the annual free credit report that all consumers are entitled to receive from the three nationwide CRA’s via According to the FTC survey, only half of consumers know they are entitled to this additional, free report. Again, follow up with the CRA’s if the credit reports do not arrive timely.
  • Disputing the Accuracy of Information on Credit Reports. Consumers have the right to dispute the accuracy of information on their credit report either with the creditor that provided the information to the CRAs or with the CRAs themselves. The creditor or CRA is then required to perform a reasonable investigation to determine whether the contested information is accurate. If the information is inaccurate, the report must be corrected.As Martha White reported in Time Moneyland, credit bureaus don’t always make it easy to dispute incorrect information. While almost three-quarters of respondents were able to get disputes resolved in either one or two contacts, 24% had to contact the bureau three to five times and another 4% had to initiate six or more contacts to get their dispute resolved.
  • Blocking the Release of Fraudulent Information in Credit Reports
    Generally, if a consumer identifies information on his or her credit report as being the result of identity theft and provides a copy of the police report to the CRAs, the FTC requires the CRA to block the reporting of that information.
  • Credit Freeze. A fraud alert is different than a credit freeze, which completely freezes your credit to all activity for a period of time.  To learn more about freezing your credit and how to reach the three credit bureaus, go to

FTC data shows that, for more than a decade, the top category of complaints it handles is identity theft. It’s essential that you know your rights and, without fail, follow up and, perhaps most importantly, be persistent.

John Sileo is an award-winning author and international speaker on the dark art of deception (identity theft, data privacy, social media manipulation) and its polar opposite, the powerful use of trust, to achieve success. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which advises teams on how to multiply performance by building a culture of deep trust. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, the FDIC, and Homeland Security. Sample his Keynote Presentation (he shares how he lost $300,000, 2 years and his business to data breach) or watch him on Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes or Fox Business. 1.800.258.8076.


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