There are a number of ways that identity theft can lead to a bankruptcy being listed on your credit report. One possibility is that someone facing foreclosure or the repossession of property (e.g., cars, boats or fine art) listed you as having ownership interest in the items at risk of being lost and then declared bankruptcy in your name. The court would have to halt repossession or foreclosure proceedings in order to track you down and verify your information, giving the identity thief ample time to hide the property in question.
Identity thieves have also been known to open credit accounts using stolen personal information, rack up significant debts that they never plan to repay, and file for bankruptcy in the victim’s name before skipping town. The red tape inherent to the bankruptcy process again buys the thief time, perhaps even providing the opportunity to perpetrate a similar crime elsewhere.
Regardless of exactly how this suspicious bankruptcy came to be listed on your credit report, it is a serious matter that demands your immediate attention and perhaps even the advice of an attorney. Here’s what you need to do:
- Contact Your Local U.S. Trustee & FBI Field Office: The U.S. Trustees Program is a division of the Department of Justice that oversees the bankruptcy process in most states throughout the country. Those who suspect bankruptcy-related fraud are instructed to notify the U.S. Trustees Program via email, but calling the U.S. Trustee that represents your area is a good idea as well. Ask for as much information you can get about the bankruptcy case and clearly explain why you believe your involvement is evidence of identity theft. Make sure to get the name and direct phone number of whomever you talk to, and ask for advice about the best way to proceed.
The U.S. Trustees Program is supposed to pass along allegations of bankruptcy crime to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, but you don’t necessarily want to count on bureaucracy at this point. So give your local field office a call and schedule a time to report the theft. Any documentation you can provide (e.g., proof of identity and financial records) will help the investigation.
- Review All Three Major Credit Reports: You already have your TransUnion credit report from WalletHub, and while Experian and Equifax credit reports contain largely the same information, there are some differences in terms of their data sources and the financial institutions that use them. Seeing how, and if, this bankruptcy is listed on your other reports may provide additional context about whether it’s fraudulent. This will also give you the opportunity to thoroughly review each of your files for other suspicious listings.
You’re entitled to a free copy of each of your major credit reports every 12 months through the government-sponsored website AnnualCreditReport.com. If you have been turned down for credit in the past 60 days, you also have the right to a free copy of the credit report the lender used to make its decision.
- File An Identity Theft Complaint With The FTC: You can file a formal identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission through its online complaint form. Make sure to include copies of any materials sent to you by the U.S. Trustee’s Office or FBI as well as other supporting documents.
Once you have submitted your complaint, the FTC will generate an Identity Theft Affidavit. It is very important that you save and print this document, as it can only be viewed once through the online system.
- File A Report With Your Local Police Department: Bring a government-issued ID, proof of your address (e.g., a mortgage or utility bill) and any additional documentation you have concerning the suspicious bankruptcy to your local police station, and ask to file a report of identity theft.
Keep in mind that taking this step is primarily a procedural milestone – as opposed to the beginning of an active investigation by local law enforcement – but it’s nevertheless essential. Your police report and FTC affidavit together comprise your Identity Theft Report, which will aid additional investigations into your case and can be submitted to the credit bureaus to support requests for the removal of inaccurate notations related to the bankruptcy.
- Consult An Attorney: Bankruptcy is a very serious matter that can result in significant credit score damage, an assortment of related costs and significant disruption to your financial life. As such, if the steps referenced above do not resolve the situation, it’s best to consult an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy fraud. At the very least, you should be able to get a free initial consultation, during which you can ask important questions and seek advice for how to proceed.
Hopefully, taking these steps will enable you to get to the bottom of the suspicious bankruptcy and minimize the related financial repercussions. The key is to have the bankruptcy removed from the public record. Once that’s accomplished, you can dispute the notation on your credit report with TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Finally, you may also want to take a few additional measures to shore up the security of your personal information and prevent future identity theft incidents.
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