Last time we talked about how to obtain free credit reports. Once you have the report, you should closely examine all accounts listed, check addresses and names listed, review credit inquiries from companies and verify the accuracy of all other information on the report.
What do you do if you find errors on your report?
You may file a dispute, free of charge, with the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Transunion, Experian). You can file a dispute online on their websites or by mail at the designated address of each company. If you find an error on one report, you should check the reports from the other two companies and file a dispute with each of them if a similar error exists. If a creditor is involved (like a credit card you do not recognize), you should contact that creditor as well. Typically, your dispute should include the details of the nature of the error (unknown name listed for you, unknown address for you, name of the creditor, account number, dollar amount disputed and any date associated). You may also submit your dispute through the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at www.cfpb.gov or the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov and they will forward your dispute to the appropriate credit reporting bureau.
The credit reporting bureau will perform an investigation of your complaint usually within 30 days. This may include them contacting the creditor in dispute. Once the investigation is complete, the credit bureau may update the status of the disputed information if it is deemed correct or delete the disputed item from your file if incorrect. If the disputed information is found to be correct, you may request that a statement of explanation be added to your file regarding the disputed item.
If you do find an account opened in your name that wasn’t opened by you, consider putting a “freeze” on your credit report account. The creditor bureaus will “lock” your credit report. That way, any prospective new creditor cannot pull a credit report on you without your express permission to the credit bureau
Active duty or retired Servicemembers and their ID card holder Family Members may be eligible for free legal assistance. To find a legal assistance office near you, call your nearest military installation or go to http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/content/locator.php.
Mary Benzinger is the Army Legal Assistance Attorney at the Pentagon Joint Legal Assistance Office, Washington, D.C.