Identity theft has always been around in some form or fashion, but it’s now easier than ever because of modern technology. Before you only had to worry about sensitive information being stolen from your wallet, garbage can, or mailbox.
Now, however, you have to deal with criminals trying to access information from your smartphone, laptop, or tablet.
Even large companies are regularly targeted by hackers to try and access social security numbers and more. So it’s more important than ever to understand all of the resources available to you that can prevent identity theft before it even happens.
One of the ways you can fight against would-be identity thieves is to implement a fraud alert on your credit reports. By getting in touch with one of the credit bureaus, you can make it incredibly difficult for anyone to open up new financing accounts under your name without your explicit permission.
There are a few different options available so be sure to read about each one to pick the best fraud alert for your situation. We’ll also take you step-by-step through the entire process to make sure you get it done right.
What is a fraud alert?
A fraud alert lets the credit bureaus know that you think you’re at risk of identity theft and are worried someone might try to open a fraudulent credit account under your name.
It sets into motion a series of extra steps that a creditor or lender must take before issuing any new credit to you. This helps to make sure that you are the one actually requesting the account, rather than an imposter with access to your social security number or other identifying information.
What exactly does a fraud alert entail?
A fraud alert raises a red flag anytime someone tries to open a new account, add an extra card to an existing account, or extend an existing credit limit. There are three types of fraud alert: an initial fraud alert, an active duty alert, and an extended fraud alert.
We’ll dive into the differences of each one in just a bit so you know which one to select. All fraud alerts are free, though each one requires different documentation in order to be approved.
When you place a fraud alert on your credit reports, any lender must contact you before authorizing any new credit requests. Even if someone has used your social security number, they wouldn’t be able to answer your phone and give verbal permission to proceed with the new account request.
A fraud alert does not, however, always stop lenders from accessing your credit report to send you promotional offers. Any actions they take on your account must be authorized in advance. Once your fraud alert is in place, it remains on your credit file until it expires or you request its removal.
What’s the difference between a temporary fraud alert and an extended fraud alert?
A fraud alert can be either temporary, lasting 90 days or extended, lasting seven years.
The temporary fraud alert is used when you think your personal information has been compromised, but you’re not sure. Maybe you noticed strange charges on a credit card or received a new billing statement for a card you don’t remember opening.
In addition to investigating those suspicious activities, you can prevent further potential damage with the 90-day alert. You can also receive a free copy of your credit report to figure out if any fraudulent changes have occurred.
The seven-year extended fraud alert can only be implemented if you have proof that identity theft has already occurred. You’ll get two free credit reports in the first year from all three credit reporting agencies so that you can track the recovery process. On top of that, you’ll be removed from all of the prescreened offer lists for a total of five years.
To qualify for the extended fraud alert, report your identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission, then take that information to your local police. If you wish, you can always request to lift the alert before seven years.
Active Duty Alerts
In addition to these types of fraud alerts that result from suspicious or actual illegal activity, military members can also add active duty alerts to help protect their personal information while deployed. You need to be an active member of the military and provide proof of identity.
Like the temporary fraud alert, creditors must reach out to contact you before extending any new credit. However, the active duty alert lasts for a full 12 months. You’ll also have your name removed from the prescreened offer list for two years.
When would you need a fraud alert?
A fraud alert comes in handy in a variety of situations. For the temporary alert, you would put it in place if there is any suspicious activity regarding your credit cards, loans, or bank accounts. Another scenario is if you temporarily lost or forgot some personal information in a public place.
Maybe you left your smartphone at a restaurant or forgot your purse in a taxi. Hopefully, no one peeked in and wrote down your credit card information, but you just never know. Rather than taking your chances, it’s better to be safe than sorry and implement a fraud alert.
When you have undoubtedly had your identity stolen, it’s time for the extended alert. This provides long-term protection as you sort out any damage that’s already been done to your credit. It’s a long process to recover from identity theft and in most cases, it’s difficult to catch the person behind the crime.
If you’ve had someone steal existing credit card information, or take out new cards or loans in your name, do yourself a favor and get the seven-year fraud alert.
How do you place a fraud alert?
It’s easier than you might think to place a fraud alert because you only have to notify one credit bureau. That credit bureau is then required to inform the other two bureaus to put a fraud alert on your credit reports with them as well.
It takes about 24 hours for all three of them to implement the alerts on your report. To get started with the process, pick which credit bureau you want to work through.
If making your request online, you may need to create an account. If you already have one with one of the credit bureaus, it’ll save you time to request the fraud alert directly through that same credit bureau.
You’ll need to enter some key information, including a report number (if you already ordered a credit report), your social security number, address, date of birth, phone number, and email address.
If requesting an extended or active duty alert, you may need additional information to prove your existing identity theft or your military status.
You can use the same online pages to remove a fraud alert if you’ve deemed that there is no longer a threat. Or you may want to apply for credit on your own without the additional step of being contacted by the lender. Either way, it’s an easy process when you’re ready.
What is the contact information for each credit bureau?
Placing a fraud alert is relatively easy and can be done either online or over the phone. Here is the direct contact information for each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Remember that you only need to add an alert to one of the bureaus — it’s their responsibility to then notify the other two.
Request an Equifax fraud alert online
Call directly: 1-888-766-0008
Request an Experian fraud alert online
Call directly: 1-888-397-3742
Request a TransUnion fraud alert online
Call directly: 1-800-680-7289
What are other ways to prevent identity theft?
A fraud alert is a relatively easy way to help prevent or mitigate identity theft. But, depending on your specific situation, you may want to consider some other options. Another resource through the credit bureaus is a credit freeze.
This is similar to a fraud alert in that it adds an extra layer of security when new credit is requested under your name. The key difference is that lenders and creditors can’t access your credit report at all because your account is effectively frozen. Rather than having a set time limit, you can lift the credit freeze at any time.
You’ll also have to pay for the service of a freeze, which varies from state to state. It usually costs anywhere between $3 and $10 to start the freeze, and you’ll have to pay a similar amount to have it lifted.
Some states offer this service for free while others offer certain discounts, such as reduced pricing for seniors. When you remove the freeze, you can do so either temporarily to apply for credit, or permanently.
Another option is to sign up for credit monitoring services. There are a wide range of services you can get depending on your needs and budget. Some reputable websites offer free services that are as simple as getting a monthly notification of changes to your credit report.
It’s an easy way to consistently keep an eye on any suspicious credit activity like new accounts. More expensive credit monitoring services provide 24/7 monitoring, text alerts, and even expert support in the event your identity has been compromised.
Protecting your financial identity is hugely important these days, and a little vigilance can go a long way. Anytime you feel concerned about the security of your credit, reach out to a credit bureau for a temporary fraud alert. And if you have already become a victim, get an extended alert as quickly as possible.
A fast reaction time can prevent a ton of additional damage over the long run. Similarly, military members being deployed have plenty of other things to worry about. An active duty alert takes the stress away of worrying about identity theft while serving overseas.
The credit bureaus make it as easy as possible to take advantage of the fraud alert service. By filling out a simple online form, you can take a free and decisive step against identity theft. Don’t assume that it won’t happen to you or simply brush away the nagging feeling that your information has been compromised.
Take a few minutes out of your day to add a fraud alert so that you can avoid dealing with identity theft. You could potentially save yourself months of headaches in the future. Go ahead and do it — you’ll thank yourself later.