Identity Theft Protection

Basic Steps To Follow If You Are A Victim Of Identify Theft

Over 100 million credit and debit card numbers were stolen as the result of separate data breaches at Target and Home Depot.   Ultimately, many of these card numbers were offered for sale on a black market website specializing in selling stolen credit cards.

You may wonder what identity theft protections exist under the law, if one of your credit or debit cards is used by an identify thief who bought your number on the black market.

You should know that the law known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act provides identity theft protections.

The Federal Trade Commission has issued an excellent article on what to do if your identity is stolen. This article is available at the following link:

In addition, the Federal Trade Commission makes available for download a comprehensive guideline called, “Taking Charge, What To Do If Your Identify Is Stolen”. This guideline can be found or downloaded by following this link:

These guidelines explain that if you believe that you are a victim of identity theft, you should follow these basic steps: 1) Place an initial fraud alert on your credit file at the credit reporting agencies; 2) Order your credit reports; 3) Create an identity theft report; 4) Review your credit reports; 5) Report errors with the credit reporting companies; 6) Request that certain information be “blocked” on your credit files; and 7) report the errors resulting from identity theft to the businesses that are reporting them.

Please understand that the Fair Credit Reporting Act imposes important responsibilities on consumer and credit reporting agencies in protecting consumers against the harm caused by identify theft.

For a free consultation on what to do if you believe you are a victim of identity theft please contact Jim Pietz at 412-281-8400 or by clicking on this link: Contact Us.

Consumer Reporting Agencies

You may not know it, but there are companies collecting and compiling more than just credit information about you. Companies known as “Specialty Consumer Reporting Agencies” are compiling and collecting information about your employment and educational background, insurance payment history and claims, bounced checks, evictions, rental payment history, medical conditions and prescription drug use. These companies sell this information in the form of consumer reports to certain businesses that then use the information to assess prospective employees or tenants, to determine the validity of checks before accepting them or to screen an insurance applicant’s request for insurance or medical benefits.

You should know, therefore, that the consumer reporting industry is not just limited to the traditional “big three” companies, Equifax, Trans Union and Experian. These are credit reporting companies who collect and compile information about how you use credit and manage you bills. They issue credit reports to lenders and other businesses to assess applications for credit made by consumers.

In comparison, specialty consumer reporting agencies play a similar role in providing information, known as consumer reports, about prospective employees, tenants, check writers, insurance applicants and medical benefits applicants. These consumer reports play a critical role in every day life. They may determine whether a person gets a particular job, qualifies for an apartment, has a continued ability to write or cash checks, or receives applied for utilities or medical benefits or insurance.

You should be aware that these specialty consumer reporting agencies and the businesses who provide them information are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This means that consumers may obtain a free annual copy of their information on file with the consumer reporting company. It also means that consumers have a right to dispute any inaccurate or outdated information that may be subject to a consumer report issued by a specialty consumer reporting agency.   The failure of the consumer reporting agency or its furnisher of information to conduct a reasonable investigation of any such dispute gives rise to a consumer’s claim under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Please contact Jim Pietz at 412-281-8400 for more information about your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Or for a free consultation, please click here:  Contact Us.

The names of some of the Specialty Consumer Reporting Agencies are not well known, but they include such companies as Certegy Check Services, Chex Systems, Telecheck, Insurance Information Exhchange, C.L.U.E., Inc., Innovis, L2C, MIB, Inc., Milliman IntellisScript, Accurate Background, American DataBank.

For a more in depth understanding of consumer reports and specialty consumer reporting agencies, please follow this link at the website of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s website:

You should also read the latest issue of Consumer Action News, Fall 2014 by following this link:

For another excellent discussion of specialty consumer reports, please follow this link to the website of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse:


Have you checked your credit report lately? If not, it could be costing you lots of money. A study by the Federal Trade Commission showed that credit report errors were contained in  1 in 4 credit reports. To read more about this study please visit the FTC website at:

A credit report error could lower your credit score causing you to pay more for goods and services in the form of higher interest and other charges. For more information about credit scores and how they affect how much you pay for goods and services, please visit the FTC website at:

To save yourself money, you should periodically check your credit report. The law known as the Fair Credit Reporting lets you get one free copy of your credit report every year from each of the major credit reporting agencies. Your free copy can be obtained by visiting: At this website you can obtain your credit reports from Trans Union, Experian and Equifax. For more information about how to get a copy of your credit report, please visit the website of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at:

How To Read Your credit Report For Credit Report Errors

 There are many different types of credit report errors. For example, sometimes the credit reporting agencies mix your credit information with that belonging to another person. An identity thief might open accounts in your name. A creditor or debt collector may report information about you that is not true.

You need to understand your credit report so you can identify mistakes resulting from these practices. In general, your credit report will have the following categories of information.

Name and identifying information

Usually, the first section of your credit report will contain your name, social security number, telephone numbers, addresses and employment information. This information is often gathered from credit applications you have completed. It is important to make sure that this information is correct. If this information seems to refer to someone else, this may indicate you have been a victim of identity theft or that your file is mixed with someone else’s.

Credit accounts

Another section of the credit report will list a lot of different information about credit accounts you have opened including credit cards, retail store credit accounts, mortgage loans and car loans. The types of information about each account my include the name of the creditor, the type of account, the date the account was opened, the date the account was closed, the balance on the account, the monthly payment amount and the status of the account, meaning is it current or past due.

It is important to examine each of the listed credit accounts to make sure that they are ones that you opened. An account you do not recognize may be a sign of identity theft or a mixed file.

Collection or delinquent accounts

Your credit report will list accounts attributed to you that contain negative information including accounts being reported as past due or delinquent or that have been given to a debt collector to seek payment. Sometimes this delinquency or collection information will be put in a separate section of your credit report.

You should be very careful in reviewing this information to make sure it is accurate and belongs to you. Debt collectors often report collection accounts that are incomplete or clearly false as a means to collect the date.

You should know that delinquency or collection accounts may be reported by consumer reporting agencies for 7 1/2 years. The time period starts from when the credit account first becomes past due or delinquent.

Credit inquiries

Another section of your report lists the companies who were given access to information in your credit report. It is important to remember that a company must have a “permissible purpose” under the FCRA for gaining access to your credit report. For example, if you apply for a loan, the company offering the loan is allowed by law to ask the credit reporting agency for information about your credit history.

In order to maintain the privacy of your credit information, it is important for you to carefully review the “credit inquiry” section of your credit report to make sure that companies have not improperly accessed your credit information.

Public records

Information about bankruptcy filings, tax liens and civil judgments that evidence a debt will also be listed in your credit report. Credit reporting agencies gather this information from public records such as the bankruptcy court or state for federal court records. A credit report will also list information obtained from court records.

You should be aware of the amount of time these records will remain in the credit report. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy will remain for 7 years. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy will remain for 10 years from the date it was filed. An unpaid tax lien will remain for 10 years from the date it was filed. A paid tax lien will remain for 7 years from when it was paid. A civil judgment will remain for 7 years from its filing date.

How To Dispute Credit Report Errors

 Under the law known as the FCRA, you have a right to “dispute” information in your credit report that is inaccurate, false or outdated. Once a credit reporting agency receives a dispute about information in a consumer report, it is required to conduct a “reasonable investigation” to determine whether is not accurate or is outdated. If a reasonable investigation is not conducted, you may have a claim under the FCRA.

If you have questions about how to dispute information to a credit reporting agency or if you have questions about your rights under the FCRA, please call Pietz Law Office at 412-288-4333 for a free consultation.

For more information on how to dispute information in a credit report, please visit the website of the CFPB at:


Consumer Contracts And Mandatory Arbitration Clauses

Have you read the contract you signed with your cell phone company? How about with your car dealer or your credit card company? If you had the time and patience to read the fine print in these contracts, you might be surprised to learn that, by signing the contract, you have waived your right to bring a lawsuit. Instead, you agreed to bring, individually, any claim you had in arbitration.

So what does this mean? Let’s assume you signed up for cell phone service and signed a lengthy contract. After a while the service offers you two free phones as a promotion and you take the offer. When your bill arrives the next month, you discover that the company has added approximately $35.00 in charges to your account in connection with its offer of two free phones. You call the company to complain, but they won’t remove the charges.

What the arbitration clause in your contract means is that you cannot go to court to recover the $35. The arbitration clause also says that you cannot band together with other persons to bring a class action in court. What the contract says you can do is file an individual claim before a private mediating service, such as the American Arbitration Association. This will require you pay certain fees and costs for the service. A single day of arbitration could cost hundreds of dollars. And then, a private mediator will decide your claim after hearing both sides. But, mediators don’t have to follow the law or apply the rules of evidence.

In other words, who would realistically bring a claim for $35 in arbitration or even in court for that matter given the costs and risks involved? No one, really. The end result in this instance is that your cell phone company gets to keep the $35 it charged you. Not only that, your cell phone company gets to keep the $35 that it charged to 300,000 other persons across the country who suffered the same $35 charge. That’s right, your cell phone company gets to keep the $10,500,000 in phantom charges.

You would think that this cannot be legal, but it is. Just a year ago, the Supreme Court, in a close 5-4 decision issued its opinion in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740, 1761(2011) where the court ruled that these types of contract provisions are valid and enforceable. It used to be that companies could not get away with these overcharging schemes because the use of class actions provided an effective method to enforce the law and obtain recovery for all the victims. As one court famously said, “The realistic alternative to a class action is not 17 million individual suits, but zero individual suits, as only a lunatic or a fanatic sues for $30.” Carnegie v. Household Int’l, Inc., 376 F.3d 656, 661 (7th Cir. 2004).

In response to the Supreme Court decision, a bill has been introduced in Congress by Senator Franken to ban forced arbitration in consumer contracts called the Arbitration Fairness Act Of 2011.