FTC Report on How Credit Bureaus Deal with Identity Theft

The FTC has a report out on a survey of 3,000 identity theft victims and their experiences dealing with the credit reporting agencies. The survey indicated that many consumers start out not knowing how the dispute process works under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This is not surprising given the complexity of the matter and the counter intuitive requirement that the consumer contact the credit bureaus directly rather than going through the creditor that is reporting the inaccurate information.

Among the identity theft victims who contacted the credit bureaus, 40% did not know they had the right to dispute to ask the credit bureaus to investigate and correct inaccurate information on their credit reports. Of those who did dispute the information on their credit report, 52% said the information was correctly removed, 29% said the information was not removed and 18% were not sure.

Of those who said the inaccurate was removed, 39% were either somewhat or very dissatisfied with the process. The main reason for the dissatisfaction was that the inaccurate information was not removed. Only 42% were able to get information removed with a single contact to a credit reporting agency while 24% needed three to five contacts. 4% had to contact a credit bureau six or more times to get the information removed!

The FCRA requires credit bureaus to block accounts that are the result of identity theft. The trigger for the blocking action is a police report by the victim and a dispute letter explaining the writer is a victim of identity theft. Very few consumers are aware of the right to have the credit bureaus block the fraudulent accounts. Only 21% of the persons who contacted the credit bureaus attempted to have the accounts blocked. Even those who asked had their accounts blocked only 46% of the time for reasons unknown.

One common reason for dissatisfaction was the difficulty of reaching a live person when calling a credit bureau. Another was the sheer difficulty of getting the bureaus to remove fraudulent accounts from their reports. Some reported the bureaus tried to sell them fraud alert packages and the like they did not want.