Do You Know Your Rights If Your Identity Is Stolen?

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According to a new report and consumer survey from the Federal Trade Commission, many Americans don’t know what they’re entitled to if someone steals their identity. FTC data shows that, for more than a decade, the top category of complaints it handles is identity theft. So it’s disturbing that many of us don’t know what kinds of consumer protections are in place to help victims.  

For instance, according to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act, if you file a police report in association with an identity theft, the credit bureaus are required to block negative information on your credit report that is a result of that crime. But 78% of respondents to the FTC’s survey didn’t know they were entitled to this right.

Perhaps that’s because of another finding the FTC unearthed: Credit bureaus are required to provide consumers with a copy of their rights if they contact a bureau to report potential identity theft, but 27% of survey respondents said they never received this notification, and roughly the same number said they weren’t sure if they’d received information about their rights.

(MORE: Don’t Get Your Identity Stolen During Tax Season)

Having a fraud alert placed on your credit file is one of the best tools to prevent identity theft before it happens. (With a fraud alert in your file, lenders are supposed to contact you by phone to confirm that you really want to open a new account.) But only 44% of survey respondents knew that they’re allowed to request one. The FTC notes that consumers often confuse fraud alerts with credit freezes.

Even when consumers do ask for those alerts, though, the credit bureaus (called CRAs in regulatory parlance) don’t always follow through. “Six percent of those who asked that a fraud alert be placed on their records stated affirmatively that at least one CRA failed to place a fraud alert, while 36% were unsure whether all of the CRAs had placed alerts on their records,” the report says.

(MORE: How Banks Are Aiding and Abetting Identity Theft)

Consumers have the right to a free credit report when they request a fraud alert. This is separate from the annual credit reports everyone can access from each bureau once a year via, but only half of consumers know that they have the right to request this additional, free credit report. What’s more troubling is that only half of respondents got credit reports from each bureau they’d requested one from; 11% got nothing. Even when the bureaus granted these requests, they often took weeks or months to deliver.

Consumers also have the right to dispute incorrect information on their credit reports. Although a majority of people know this, it seems that the credit bureaus don’t always make it easy to do so. While about 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 ironed out. If you’re disputing information on your credit report, be persistent and follow up — as many times as you have to for a resolution.