Dear Credit Care,
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A credit card was issued in my name when I was 16. I never applied for it or used it. I have been harassed and my credit score was damaged before I was 18. I told them it was fraud, but they never fixed anything, and they sold it to another collector. They also failed to tell me that the fraud didn't go through and said that I was 20 when I was 16 at the time. Can I sue them for defamation, injury to credit report, stress, harassment?
I am sorry to hear about your identity theft problems. Unfortunately, you are not alone. Theft of children's identities is increasing and is difficult to detect before tremendous damage has already taken place to the child's credit. Many children do not know their identities have been stolen until they become adults and apply for credit or attempt to rent an apartment or open a bank account.
You can certainly consider contacting an attorney to verify your rights regarding the fraudulent account. Your attorney can perform all the steps outlined below on your behalf, if you choose, and inform you if you have rights to sue the collector.
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If you have not filed a police report to give details of the identity theft, start there. Some states do not have specific identity theft laws, but your local police station should be willing to take your report with some insistence on your part. The Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Affidavit is a great tool to use. If you know the person who applied for the credit card in your name and are not comfortable filing a police report, you can proceed without one; it is just faster and simpler if you file a report with the police.
Once you have the police report or the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit, you will need to contact the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you haven't already done so, get free copies of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Next, dispute the fraudulent account(s) with the bureaus as identity theft and send a copy of your police report and/or affidavit to have the account removed from your reports. You also have the option to place a fraud alert on your report or even do a credit freeze to help prevent any future fraudulent accounts.
To stop any future harassment from the collection agency, you will need to get some information from them. What you want to know is the original creditor's information, the date the account was first opened and what is required by the collector to prove that the account was opened fraudulently. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that a collector must disclose the original creditor's information when attempting to collect a debt. In addition, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that once an account has been proven fraudulent, the collection agency must remove the inaccurate information from the credit bureaus.
Contact the original creditor's fraud department, let them know that the account was opened as a result of identity theft and request that they send you the application for the account. Also, determine what the creditor requires to have your name and personal identification information removed from the account. Keep good records of everyone you speak with regarding the fraudulent account and send all correspondence certified mail, return receipt requested. A great resource you can visit is IDTheftCenter.org.
Handle your credit with care!