Here is a bit of information on the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA").
OBTAINING A CREDIT REPORT
Under the law, in most cases, consumers are entitled to one free credit report from each of the "big 3" credit bureaus every 12 months. So, how do you get that report?
In order to comply with this requirement, the bureaus have set up a web site, annualcreditreport.com. Through this site, you can either directly request your report, or, get information on requesting the report by telephone or mail.
If you use any other site, particularly the Free Credit Report site which you probably see advertised on TV and the radio with the catchy jingle, you may end up having to pay for the report, though it may be indirectly. You may also end up paying for a service which I cannot see how you would ever need, especially in light of the Credit Freezes available. Moreover, when you click to agree with the terms and conditions on many of these sites, you are typically agreeing to multiple pages of things including the possibility of giving up valuable rights, such as the right to sue the bureau in court (see Arbitration page) for any alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
DISPUTING A LINE ITEM/TRADE LINE ON YOUR REPORT
Once you have received your report, look it over very carefully. One thing that many people comment on is that there are accounts they do not recognize. Many of these accounts turn out to be store or private credit cards which are owned or serviced by another company. For example, your credit card at one of the big national home improvements stores will not show up on your report as that store, but instead as an account held by a big national bank, with which you may not do business. Therefore, you should look very closely at the accounts and even call them if you have any questions.
If there is an inaccuracy, in most instances, you must dispute it with the bureau, NOT the entity that reported it to the bureau. Typically, the furnisher does not have any obligation to correct the item unless it receives a request to do so from the bureau, not from the consumer. Once you dispute it with the bureau, the bureau then has an obligation to reinvestigate the allegations of your dispute, typically by going back to the furnisher and asking the furnisher to investigate the matter. The furnisher then has an obligation to look into the trade line for the account at issue and report back that the account has been verified as accurate, cannot be verified (in which case it should be deleted from your credit report), or does not report back at all (in which case the account will also be deleted.) The more detail you provide in your dispute letter, the better it typically is. If the disputed information comes back as "reverified as accurate" which it often does regardless of whether or not it is actually accurate, then you may have a claim against the bureau and/or the furnisher for their improper reinvestigation. As far as I can see, the most surprising thing about the FCRA is that there is not a private right of action for an inaccuracy in your credit report and only the Federal Trade Commission and the the State Attorney General can file suit in that case. What does that mean in English? That if there is something incorrect on your credit report, YOU cannot sue the bureau, only the Federal Trade Commission or Attorney General can. However, you can sue for an improper reinvestigation, which is why the dispute letter is so very important in these cases.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
If the furnisher does not do a proper investigation and the inaccuracy remains on your report, you may then wish to consider filing a lawsuit. It will take an experienced attorney with knowledge of the FCRA to assist you.
If you find that there are inaccuracies on your credit report, give us a call to discuss your specific situation as each case will necessarily turn on its own unique set of facts.