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Question: I have a debt from a credit card that I have been disputing with credit bureaus and the card issuer for years. I cannot get it removed. I have “welcoming” paperwork from the card issuer with address that was not my legal address due to identity theft. I have sent them copy of my lease with the correct address but still can’t get removed. How can I get this removed?

— Gail in Rhode Island

Gerri Detweiler answers…

Let’s review the steps for disputing credit report errors, and then we can suggest some alternatives.

When you find a mistake on your credit reports, the first step is to dispute it with the credit reporting agency that’s reporting the mistake. There are three major credit reporting agencies, or CRAs: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. They don’t share information with each other, so you’ll need to dispute the mistake with each CRA, assuming each of them is reporting it.

When a CRA receives your dispute, it must investigate and respond within 30 days in most cases. The item can no longer be reported if it cannot be verified with the lender or company reporting it.

(The company reporting it to the CRAs is referred to as the “furnisher” of information under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA, the federal law that applies to credit reporting agencies.)

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If the dispute with the credit reporting agency doesn’t resolve your problem, the next step is to dispute the mistake directly with the furnisher who reported the erroneous information. In your case, that’s the credit card issuer.

You gain an advantage when you dispute incorrect information directly with the CRA that’s reporting it. Why? If the furnisher of the information agrees there’s an error, it must report the correction with any credit reporting agency to which it has supplied that information. This requirement could save you the extra steps of having to contact each CRA separately if you haven’t already done so.

There’s one more important protection that may apply in your case. If a consumer notifies a CRA that information in her report is incorrect due to identity theft, federal law says the CRA must block that item and notify the furnisher. However, they can decline to block the information, or rescind the block if it determines it was blocked in error, or if there was a misrepresentation by the consumer.

You didn’t mention what information you’ve provided to verify your claim of ID theft beyond a copy of your lease at the time. Sometimes card issuers will want to see verification of the theft in the form of a police report or identity theft affidavit. It’s not always required, but it could be necessary in order to help get your claim taken seriously.

I’m assuming your debt hasn’t been turned over to collections. If you’re contacted by a collection agency or a collection account appears on your credit reports you’ll need to also dispute it with the debt collection agency.

Given that you’ve already tried disputing your problematic item with the CRAs and the furnisher, you’ll have to try other approaches.

One option is to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at ConsumerFinance.gov. The CFPB will likely contact the credit reporting agency and, with the agency’s assistance, you may be able to resolve your problem.

If that doesn’t work, you can contact an attorney with experience in consumer credit reporting cases. The website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates can help you find a lawyer in your state with that expertise. If the attorney thinks you have a good case, she may be willing to take it on a contingent fee basis so you don’t have to pay her upfront.

If neither of these approaches work, keep in mind that as negative information ages, it should have less of an impact on your credit scores, especially if your credit reports show on-time payments since the date of the negative information was first reported. In other words, time is on your side. You don’t have to wait until the negative account is removed from your credit reports to start rebuilding your credit.

Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin or one of his fellow experts will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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Article last modified on November 16, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: How Do I Get Rid Of A Credit Card Charge I Didn’t Make? - AMP.