If you find signs of fraud on your credit report – whether an unrecognized account, an erroneous public record or any other information that seemingly stems from identity theft – you will need to follow a special process to correct the situation. It’s called “suppression.” Most people either don’t know about suppression or confuse it with the standard dispute process, which you might use to correct common credit-report inaccuracies. But there are a number of crucial differences.
For starters, suppression is faster than a standard dispute, helping victims of fraud rid their reports of problematic information in a matter of days, rather than weeks. You must also take special steps to request suppression. This includes filing a police report and completing a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) affidavit.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, credit bureaus handle suppressed and disputed data differently. Basic credit-report inaccuracies are “deleted” or “removed” after a consumer successfully disputes them, which creates a hole that could be filled with the exact same information if a stubborn lender or debt collector reports it again. But credit bureaus keep suppressed data behind the scenes to block a lender or collection agency from re-reporting it, according to credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax. That’s one reason why “suppressed” credit data is often referred to as “blocked.”
Below, you can learn everything else you need to know about suppression, from how to request it to what happens after the credit bureaus take action.
What Can & Should Be Suppressed
According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a credit bureau must block “the reporting of any information” resulting from “an alleged identity theft.” And the FTC provides some additional context, noting this includes any “line item on a credit report reflecting an account the consumer did not open or a transaction the consumer did not make.” Unauthorized inquiries are also mentioned as an example.
These guidelines obviously don’t provide much specificity, so it’s important to know when it makes sense to request suppression and when to file a standard dispute. Here’s the breakdown for some of the most common situations consumers face and how to handle each one:
|Situation||Suppress or Dispute?|
|Due to an internal error, your credit card company reports the wrong statement balance to the credit bureaus.||Dispute|
|A new credit card account and home address appear on your credit report out of the blue.||Suppress|
|A creditor reports your payment as “late” after unauthorized charges are made on a card you no longer use.||Suppress|
|A creditor reports your payment as “late” despite your statement showing otherwise.||Dispute|
|You see an inquiry from a creditor you definitely didn’t apply with.||Suppress|
|You get calls from debt collectors and find a collections account on your credit report. You have no outstanding bills.||Suppress|
|There is a slight misspelling of your name or home address.||Dispute|
|An account is listed twice on your report.||Dispute|
|Your credit report does not include your oldest open account into the length of your credit history||Dispute|
|An account listed as past-due, despite the lender agreeing to credit you as having paid on time.||Dispute|
|Some information on your credit report looks fishy, but you don’t want to file a police report.||Dispute|
As you can see, pretty much anything in your credit report that has been tainted by identity theft is fair game for suppression. You just have to set the process in motion, and we’ll explain how to do that below.
How To Suppress Credit Information
There is a clear process that you and the credit bureaus must follow in regard to the suppression of credit information. You have to send all of the following documents to each bureau whose report contains the fraudulent info:
- Proof of your identity
- Identity Theft Report (including police report and FTC affidavit)
- Description of the fraudulent info
- Statement attesting to the fraudulence of the info (see sample below)
The credit bureau(s) can then accept your complaint or request more information. If a bureau accepts, it is required to suppress suspected fraudulent information within four business days. It must also notify the so-called data furnisher(s) (i.e. the source of the info). Data furnishers cannot sell or send to collections any debt while it is suppressed. That would not be the case if you submitted your complaint directly to the furnisher, however, which is one reason why doing so isn’t a necessity.
If a credit bureau needs more information, it can request it within 15 days of receiving your complaint. A bureau can also make a second request within 15 days of the first. It is required to make a decision within 15 days of the first request or five days after receiving the additional info.
Finally, with all of the info in hand, the credit bureau can decline or rescind the suppression if you:
- Requested the suppression in error
- Materially misrepresented the nature of the alleged fraud
- Obtained money, goods or services via suppressed transactions
These requirements prevent dishonest consumers from taking advantage of suppression for their personal convenience. For instance, trying to strategically suppress negative info from your credit file just long enough to secure a decent mortgage rate would likely involve a few counts of fraud. After all, you’d be lying to the lender and sending a falsified police report across state lines.
You can always check the status of a suppression request by reviewing your latest credit report on WalletHub. WalletHub shows you free credit reports that update on a daily basis, allowing you to quickly see whether problematic info is listed or not.
Suppression-Request Letter Template
If you want the credit bureaus to accept your request for suppression, you’ll need to clearly and concisely explain why certain information on your credit reports may be the product of identity theft. This letter should quickly bring the bureaus’ examiners up to speed on your situation, lend context to your supporting documentation and minimize the need for subsequent requests for information. This will help ensure the information in question gets suppressed as quickly as possible and stays suppressed.
For your convenience, we have prepared the following sample letter that you can customize to suit your specific needs.
[Your Mailing Address]
[Credit Bureau Name]
[Subject of Letter: Suppression Request]
To Whom It May Concern:
I would like to request the suppression of the following items from my credit report, which are the result of my falling victim to identity theft. This information does not relate to [transactions that I have made/accounts that I have opened], as the attached supporting documentation can attest. As such, it should be blocked from appearing on my credit report pursuant to section 605B of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Supporting documents are enclosed with this letter. Please let me know if any additional information is needed. Furthermore, when you accept this request, please send the notifications required by the FCRA to all furnishers of the blocked information.
What Happens After Suppression?
Suppression generally benefits consumers by semi-permanently removing problematic records from their files. This saves fraud victims from undeserved credit score damage and consequently higher costs.
But negative outcomes are still possible. If you’re new to credit, for example, the suppression of the little information that’s on your report could prevent you from getting a credit score or enrolling in credit monitoring. The same is true when an individual’s entire credit report gets suppressed (save for some basic personal information), which can happen in rare situations. Plus, if credit bureaus can add erroneous info to people’s credit reports, you have to believe they can mistakenly remove it, too. So it’s possible that suppression could rob you (at least temporarily) of some positive credit-report content.
Furthermore, the only way you can tell that information has been suppressed is by its omission from your credit report (s). As mentioned earlier, if the credit bureau(s) do not ask for additional information regarding your suppression request, the relevant credit-report information should be removed from your credit report(s) within four business days.
There is no version of your report(s) that includes suppressed info. The only times you can see suppressed info are when it is unsuppressed or if you somehow acquire a snapshot of the credit bureau’s internal file on you. And neither is very likely. But the law does require a credit bureau to notify you if it chooses to deny your request or rescind its prior decision to suppress info on your report.
Nevertheless, you can review the rest of your credit report’s contents on WalletHub, the only service that offers free daily updates. You can also track your credit score and enroll in 24/7 credit monitoring.
Image: eranicle / iStock.