How to Dispute Credit Report Errors

Credit report errors are a common result of identity theft. Here's how to dispute them

For many of us, the first hint of identity theft is a rash of credit report errors -- usually late notices or charge-offs for credit cards we don't even own. Setting the record straight is a difficult, time-consuming process, but you have to do it.

By law, credit reporting agencies must correct any inaccurate information when you point it out. But because they have to be very cautious before doing so, expect to have to jump through a few hoops first.

Getting Started

The dispute process is fairly straightforward, but it can take a while and the details can be complex. Your first step, once you've identified unexplained entries, is to send a detailed letter to the credit reporting agency outlining exactly why you think the report is inaccurate.

They'll want copies of any supporting documentation you may have (don't send the originals; you'll never see them again). Explain exactly why you're disputing the item, and request its removal. Make sure all your contact info (address, phone number, email, etc.) is accurate on your paperwork.

Send the letter by certified mail, with a return receipt requested, so you can be sure they got it.

The Response

Unless the reporting agency considers your claim frivolous, they have to investigate within 30 days, and forward the claim to the information provider, which must also investigate. If the latter finds that their information is inaccurate, they have to report that to all the major credit reporting agencies.

Win or lose, your reporting agency must notify you of the results in writing. If the dispute resulted in a change in your credit record, they also have to give you a free report, and then they have to send notice of the correction to anyone who has received your report in the past six months.

This report doesn't count against your free yearly report, and if you like, you can ask that it be sent to anyone you've contacted for employment purposes in the last two years.

Even if you don't win the dispute, you can ask for a statement of the dispute to be included with your report. They're likely to charge you for this, though.

Further Efforts

While the information provider should receive your claim via the reporting agency and respond to it forthwith, you can also contact them directly with your dispute; they may provide a specific address for this. Include all the information you would provide to the reporting agency, including copies of supporting documentation.

For more detailed information on how to dispute credit report errors, including sample letters that you can use as templates of your own, check out the Federal Trade Commission's web page on the subject.

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