Credit bureaus, also known as Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) in the United States, are the referees when it comes to relationships between companies, consumers and debt collection agencies. These nationwide bureaus keep a record of your personal credit status by aggregating everything about your financial history: outstanding loans, available credit, open and closed accounts, collections and more. Credit bureaus also take into account your average income, savings and loan history, and know personal details such as your Social Security Number.
These credit profiles help lenders figure out the risk of extending you credit, which affects whether or not you receive a loan, as well as the interest rate. In general, more risk means higher interest.
Unfortunately, identity thefts occur daily — and many times victims don’t realize until it’s too late. The consequences can last a long time, with bad credit lingering on your score and making it hard to qualify for loans with reasonable interest rates.
That’s why you should check your credit report each month and be on the lookout for signs your identity has been stolen. For instance, there may be new accounts and unfamiliar transactions associated with your identity. If you notice anything suspicious or out of the ordinary, it’s time to check to see if you were part of a data breach! That can give you confirmation that your your identity is risk — and that you need to contact the credit bureaus.
What are my options with the credit bureaus?
So what to do if your identity has been stolen? After you notify the police, the very next step is to to notify at least one of the three nationwide credit bureaus. If you fail to do so, your identity could keep on being used without permission. As you can imagine, this can lead to an ever longer list of unfortunate thanks that need to be sorted out. And the damage could take years to undo! So you must move fast.
There are three other things that you can do when you contact the credit bureaus:
- Request a Free Credit Report
Once you contact credit bureaus for identity theft, you can ask them for your free credit report. This is mandated by law. This way, you can cross-check all important finances and monetary statements. Consequently, if you notice discrepancies or unauthorized use of your identity info, you can dispute the credit report immediately.
- Set Up a Fraud Alert
A fraud alert will notify your banks, insurance companies, property dealers, and credit score experts about identity theft. They’ll turn down any deals or transactions done under your name unless they can get it verified by you. A fraud alert is a cumbersome tool and can take affect your own ability to apply for credit. So use caution here!
- Security Freezes
Security freezes prevent companies from accessing your credit file, which means that no one can use your identity to open new accounts. This includes yourself! So keep that in mind. You can activate a security freeze with your credit bureau until you’ve sorted out the problem. Security freezes should be free — each bureau has paid versions called “credit locks,” so only pay if you want the additional support.
How to contact the Big Three credit bureaus
As soon as your suspicions are confirmed, you need to bring them to the attention of at least one of the credit bureaus.
Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are the three major credit bureaus that work to build a network or credit reporting and record-keeping throughout the US. If you email or call any one of them to inform about missing credit info, it’ll alert the other two as well.
You can report to any one or all three via their respective contact details below. You may need to mail in physical evidence (such as copies of police reports and credit card statements), so don’t forget to follow up with all required supporting materials!
And, while it can be annoying (and more invasive), it’s worth it to set up a free account to more easily manage any fraud alerts and other account details.
How to contact Experian:
You can mail other details and documents to Experian’s National Consumer Assistance Center at PO. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013.
Full contact details can be found here.
How to contact Equifax:
Or by mail: Equifax Disclosure Department, PO. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374.
Full contact details can be found here.