A survey of identity theft victims found that many do not fully understand their rights under federal law and many said they feel pressured into buying monitoring services when contacting one of the credit bureaus for help.
The Federal Trade Commission issued a staff report summarizing the survey results, which found that identity theft victims were generally unaware of their rights to place fraud alerts on their credit reports with the three credit bureaus, also referred to as consumer reporting agencies.
They are also mostly unaware that they can request a free credit report from the three consumer reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax or TransUnion – when placing a fraud alert, block fraudulent information from appearing in their credit report, and receive a notice of these and other rights from the credit bureaus.
Congress established most of theses rights under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) to help consumers recover from identity theft.
Both the survey respondents and separate focus groups have raised concerns about the consumer reporting agencies’ tactics of selling identity theft protection products to victims.
“Several respondents and focus group participants complained that they felt pressured to buy one or more products and that, in some cases, they received services that they did not want or need,” said the report, Using FACTA Remedies: An FTC Staff Report on a Survey of Experience of Identity Theft Victims.
The report adds that the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has rulemaking authority over the credit bureaus, may want to address these practices.
Most identity theft victims who contacted one or more credit bureaus by telephone attempted to speak to a representative rather than listen to a recording.
Of those who attempted to speak to a representative, 81 percent eventually were able to do so. Sixty-one percent of those who spoke with a representative found it either very or somewhat easy to reach a representative, 36 percent found it either somewhat or very difficult, and 13 percent reported that it was very difficult.
The report concluded that:
- The consumer reporting agencies may need to make it easier for consumers to reach a live person;
- The FTC and other enforcement agencies should do more to educate the public about their rights under FACTA; and
- The FTC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should use their respective authorities to address the consumer reporting agencies’ practices related to selling identity theft monitoring products or services when they are contacted by identity theft victims.
The FTC also provides materials to help consumers deter, detect, and defend against identity theft. For example, the FTC’s identity theft victim recovery guide, Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft, explains the immediate steps victims should take, how to obtain a credit report and correct fraudulent information in credit reports, how to file a police report, and how to protect personal information.