“Identity theft” brings to mind credit card skimmers, hackers, massive data breaches, and even criminals rummaging through your garbage looking for identifying information and credit card numbers. While those are all very real threats, some dangers lie closer to home. In one recent year, more than 500,000 people in the United States fell victim to family identity theft caused by people they trusted.
When someone close to you steals your identity, you may face special difficulties in cleaning up your credit record. First, if the person who stole your identity is a close family member, romantic partner, or friend, he or she may divert you or discourage you from taking red flags seriously, delaying discovery of the theft.
Also, because “insider” identity thieves have access to more extensive information and possibly your computer or mobile device, creditors and credit reporting agencies may be more skeptical about the theft. They may take the position that identity theft committed by your adult child, ex-spouse, or significant other isn’t their problem—even though that’s not what the law says.
If your identity has been stolen by someone close to you and you’ve been unable to get charges reversed or fraudulent balances and accounts removed from your credit report, don’t despair.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) Protects Victims of Family Identity Theft
Both the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the New York Fair Credit Reporting Act (NY FCRA) impose certain obligations on credit reporting agencies, intended to ensure the accuracy of consumer credit reports. These obligations include prompt investigation or reinvestigation of disputed items and timely removal of mistakes and information that cannot be verified.
The federal statute also imposes similar obligations upon those who provide information to credit reporting agencies. These people are known as information furnishers.
Both consumer financial protection statutes provide for damages when these obligations aren’t met. In other words, a victim of family identity theft may be entitled to monetary compensation if a credit reporting agency or information furnisher fails or refuses to investigate disputed items and make appropriate corrections.
Schlanger Law Group (SLG) Pursues Damages on Behalf of Identity Theft Victim, and Succeeds!
In late 2018, Schlanger Law Group filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a woman whose identity was stolen by her ex-boyfriend. During the relationship, the boyfriend took advantage of his access to our client’s personal information, mail, and credit cards to incur tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges. In addition to credit card purchases, he bought a motor vehicle and automobile insurance.
Upon realizing what had happened, our client filed a police report, and an arrest warrant was issued. She also repeatedly disputed the various items with both the creditors who furnished the debt information and the credit reporting agencies who reported the details, without success.
In the lawsuit we requested actual and statutory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, and attorney’s fees on behalf of the victim. Defendants included all three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), American Honda Finance Corporation, Barclays Bank Delaware, Chase Bank USA, N.A., Discover Bank, DFS Services LLC (d/b/a Discover Network), and PNC Bank, National Association.
**UPDATE: Schlanger Law Group is proud to report on behalf of our client, we successfully settled this case with all defendants avoiding the necessity of a full-blown trial.
Creditors and Credit Reporting Agencies Don’t Have the Final Say
If you’ve fallen victim to family identity theft, or are simply trying to correct a mistake on your credit report, don’t take the creditor’s or credit reporting agency’s initial denial or failure to act as a final ruling. The credit reporting agencies and the information furnishers have very specific legal obligations. They can be compelled to comply with those obligations—and, in some cases, to pay money damages.
If you’ve disputed items on your credit report without success, even though you know they are inaccurate or the result of identity theft, call (212) 500-6114 or fill out this contact form to schedule a free case consultation and learn more about how we can help.