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How do I remove old negative items from my credit reports?

Summary

If negative items appeared on your credit report as a result of ID theft a few years ago, you can still remove them from your reports. Here’s how.

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Dear Speaking of Credit,

How can I go about getting negative things removed from my credit reports?

Almost three years ago, I was the victim of identity theft. My bank accounts were emptied. Plus, I got stuck paying it all back.

There are things on my credit reports I have no idea what they relate to. There also is a notationn that says, “Too many inquiries in the last 12 months.” I surely am not responsible for those credit inquiries.

I really never paid attention to the credit reporting agencies, but I am certainly going to monitor my credit reports from now on. – Richard

Dear Richard,
You should be glad to know that despite the three-year time lapse, it’s not too late to set your credit reports straight.

Unfortunately, however, the same cannot be said for your chances of retrieving the money you spent to replenish those hacked bank accounts. You’ll see why.

First, and perhaps more for future reference, we will take a look at some of the actions you could have taken three years ago that may have led to the bank replacing the money fraudulently taken from your bank accounts.

Next, we’ll list some steps you can take now to remove any lingering fraudulent information from your credit reports, lock up your information at the credit bureaus, and effectively monitor your credit going forward.

See related:  Who to call in the first hours after fraud strikes

Reporting unauthorized transactions to your bank or credit union

Any unauthorized transactions appearing on a bank statement should be reported within 60 days of the statement date.

Otherwise you could find yourself paying for all such fraudulent transactions if you wait until after that 60-day window has passed before acting.

  • After the bank or credit union has been notified of the fraud activity, they generally have 10 business days to investigate the consumer’s claim (20 business days if the account has been open less than 30 days).
  • Any such discrepancies are to be fixed within one business day after determining that an error has been made.
  • Then they must advise you of their findings and resolution within three business days.

Removing fraudulent accounts and inquiries from your credit report

Any time a consumer discovers their bank account has been hacked, it’s a good guess that credit accounts could have been opened or credit card charges made fraudulently.

Therefore, in this situation, you will want to immediately check your credit reports from all three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – for any accounts or balances not belonging to you.

Should you find any such identity theft-related information on your credit reports, there are a few steps you can take to correct your credit file and keep you from being held responsible for debt that isn’t yours:

  • Contact your card company or lender, requesting they remove your name from any account you didn’t open and instruct the credit bureaus to delete any such information from your credit file. For unauthorized charges on accounts that belong to you, they’ll close the old account, open a new one without the fraud charges, and send you a new card. You won’t be liable for any unauthorized debt, as long as you bring it to their attention within 60 days of the charge.
  • File a written dispute – certified mail is best – with the credit bureau reporting the information. It will contact the creditor reporting the account to confirm that the debt was indeed fraudulent. Be sure to include documentation, such as a police report (if there is one) and any prior communication from creditors that will help support your request.
  • Though no inquiries older than two years should still remain on your credit report, any inquiries associated with the opening of fraudulent accounts will be deleted when disputed with the credit bureau. Once again, providing documentation that helps describe the fraudulent nature of inquiry can work in your favor.

Freezing your credit

Proactively, you can avoid future identity theft by placing a credit freeze on your credit reports at the big three credit bureaus. Since most credit account openings rely heavily on the credit history reported by one or more credit bureaus, denying such access effectively throws a wrench into a fraudster’s account-opening efforts.

Credit and identity monitoring

It is a good idea to start monitoring your credit. By monitoring your credit reports for changes in your accounts and personally identifying information, you’ll be better able to act quickly to prevent a similar future occurrence.

Perhaps the easiest and cheapest – free actually – way to keep an eye on what your creditors and credit bureaus are saying about you is to regularly obtain your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Here your credit report from each bureau is available for free once per year.

Many consumers monitor their credit on an ongoing basis using AnnualCreditReport by pulling a free report from a different bureau every four months.

Yet you may wish to monitor your credit more frequently and see each bureau’s information more than once per year. If so, you have many options, including:

  • CreditCards.com lets you have access to your VantageScore credit score and TransUnion credit report for free at any time.
  • Free credit scores from your credit card issuers. Most of the major card issuers now include a free credit score, along with some basic credit reporting information and updates, as part of their monthly billing statements or online. An unexpected drop in your credit score could be a sign of identity theft.
  • Credit bureau monitoring products. For a fee, each of the three credit bureaus offer a variety of monitoring products, ranging from monthly notification of credit report and score changes to daily updates covering changes at one or all three bureaus.

Hopefully, such better-late-than-never information will help you clean up the remaining errors on your credit reports and give you the tools to resolve any such future credit problems.

And here’s hoping you won’t need them.

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