You have a 1 in 3 chance of becoming a victim of identity theft after your personal information has been swiped, according to a recent study published by Javelin Strategy & Research. This is a sharp increase from just a few years ago – in 2010, the chance was still a startling 1 in 9.
While experts predict the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft and credit card fraud continues to increase, there are proactive steps you can take to protect yourself and your credit. Here is a step-by-step guide for Georgia residents on how to identify and dispute credit fraud:
First, check your credit report on a regular basis. Consumers in the state of Georgia are allowed to get two free credit reports every year and there are a number of free resources, including freecreditreport.com, annualcreditreport.com and creditkarma.com. The reports vary by source – some are more detailed than others – but you can request credit reports from multiple sources. You can also request a copy by mail directly from any one of the three credit reporting agencies, just send a letter stating your name, address, social security number, a statement that you are requesting a copy of your credit report, and include a copy of your driver’s license, passport, or other photograph ID for identification purposes. Anytime you send mail related to your credit history, we recommend keeping a duplicate copy on file and sending it via certified mail to maintain a well-documented paper trail.
Once you receive your report(s), review all the information and look for anything out of the ordinary, which may include addresses of places you have not lived, names of employers you have not worked for, or information that should no longer be on your credit report such as bankruptcies over 10 years old. If your credit report contains addresses of places you have not lived, employers you have not worked for, lines of credit you did not apply, and payment histories for lines of credit you have never used, you may be a victim of identity theft and should contact your local authorities and immediately file a police report.
If you find something that seems out of the ordinary, do some research. Keep in mind, just because you don’t immediately recognize the name of an entity doesn’t automatically mean it’s not valid – sometimes companies change names, or it could be a collection agency who purchased your account from the original creditor. It may take a little research to determine whether the unrecognized item is in fact related to a valid charge you originated.
If after doing some initial research, something out of the ordinarydoes not seem related to your credit history, the next step is to contact the credit reporting agency from which you obtained the report, and the original creditor who reported to that agency, to dispute the reported information. The best way to dispute a charge is by sending a letter sent via certified mail that clearly states the facts and provides copies of all evidence supporting your dispute. If the information you feel is in error appears on credit reports obtained from all three credit reporting agencies, you will need to send a separate letter to each agency. While a violation of your consumer rights and your personal finances rightfully triggers many emotions, letters to credit agencies are not an opportunity to vent. Refrain from including unsupported allegations of wrongdoing and only include those facts which support your belief that the report was in error. Prevent undermining your case by using the sample letter provided as a template.
After sending the first letter, the agencies have 30 days to complete a thorough investigation into your claim and respond in writing. Keep copies of any correspondence related to the dispute in your files. If you don’t receive a letter from each agency within 30 days, but you know you received a certified mail receipt indicating your letter was received, make a note of this in your file. If the agency deems the disputed information to be invalid, it will be removed from your report with no further action required. However, you should still request a follow-up report to confirm the information was removed.
If the agency claims the disputed charge is valid, without conducting a thorough investigation, you should dispute the information a second time, also through certified mail. If, after sending 3-4 dispute letters, the credit reporting agencies continue to maintain that the report is correct and fail to complete a thorough investigation, it is time to contact an attorney as the reporting entity and the credit reporting agencies may be in violation of federal and state law.
When to contact an attorney:
Identity theft and credit card fraud are serious crimes. As a consumer, you are protected from credit card fraud under both state and federal laws. If the dispute is not handled properly three to four letters have been submitted, it’s time to contact an attorney with experience protecting the rights of consumers. An experienced attorney can help by analyzing the content of letters sent and received, your credit reports, and any other documentation related to the dispute, such as police reports related to identity theft or historical credit reports. If there appears to be a valid case of identity theft or invalid reporting, you may have a claim for damages against the reporting creditor and credit reporting agencies.
If you have been a victim of identity theft or credit card fraud and need help from an experienced attorney, contact us today for a consultation at 770-389-4864.
Any representations regarding the law in this Blog is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog publisher. The Blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
Smith, Welch, Webb & White, LLC., is recognized as a premier law firm throughout the state of Georgia with expertise in this area of law. We have an uncompromising commitment to serving our clients and community. Our team of experts routinely handle a wide range of legal matters and will be happy to provide outstanding service for you, your family, or your business.
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