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.
However, now you have to deal with criminals trying to access information from your smartphone, laptop, or tablet.
Hackers regularly target even large companies to attempt to access Social Security numbers and more. So, it’s more important than ever to understand all 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. You can make it very difficult for anyone to open fraudulent credit accounts under your name by contacting one of the three major credit bureaus.
Several options are available, so read about each 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 is a notice placed on your credit report that lets creditors know that you may be at risk of identity theft. If you are concerned that someone may try to open a fraudulent credit account using your name, it may be a good idea to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
A fraud alert requires creditors and lenders to take additional steps before accessing your credit report. This helps to verify that you are the one requesting the account. An imposter who may have access to your personal identifying information, such as your Social Security number, is not able to request the account.
What does a fraud alert do?
A fraud alert raises a red flag when someone tries to open a new account, add a card to an existing account, or increase an existing credit limit. There are three types of fraud alert: an initial fraud alert, an extended fraud alert, and an active duty fraud alert.
We’ll dive into the differences of each one below so you know which one to select. All fraud alerts are free, though each one requires different documentation to be approved.
When you place a fraud alert on your credit reports, creditors 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.
However, fraud alerts don’t 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 report 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.
Initial Fraud Alerts
Initial fraud alerts, or temporary fraud alerts, are used when you think your personal information has been compromised, but you’re unsure. For instance, if you notice unusual charges on a credit card or receive a billing statement for a card you do not remember opening, it may be a cause for concern.
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 determine if any fraudulent changes have occurred.
Extended Fraud Alerts
You can only implement the seven-year extended fraud alert if you have proof that you’ve been a victim of identity theft. To achieve this, you must submit a copy of a police report or other valid identity theft report.
You’ll get two free credit reports in the first year from all three credit reporting companies so that you can track the recovery process. On top of that, they’ll remove you from all 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. Of course, you can always request to lift the fraud alert before seven years if you wish.
Active Duty Alerts
In addition to these types of fraud alerts, military members can also add an active duty fraud alert to help protect their personal information while deployed. You need to be an active military member 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 fraud 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?
Placing a fraud alert on your credit report is helpful in various situations. For example, temporary alerts can be placed if there is any suspicious activity involving 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. So, rather than taking your chances, it’s better to be safe than sorry and implement a fraud alert on your credit report.
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 been done to your credit scores. Recovering from identity theft is a long and often difficult process. Additionally, it’s often difficult to identify the person responsible for the crime.
If someone has stolen your credit card information, or has opened new cards or loans in your name, it is recommended that you get a 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 credit 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 fraud alerts on your credit report. To get started with the process, pick which credit bureau to contact.
Placing a Fraud Alert Online
If making your request online, you may need to create an account. However, 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. This includes a credit 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 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 a fraud alert to one of the three credit bureaus. It’s their responsibility to 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. For example, another resource the credit bureaus offer is a credit freeze.
A credit freeze is similar to a fraud alert in that it adds a level of protection when someone tries to apply for credit using your name. However, the main difference is that lenders and creditors cannot access your credit file at all when your account is frozen. Unlike a fraud alert, which has a set time limit, you can lift a credit freeze at any time you choose.
You’ll also have to pay for the service of a credit 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 credit 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 credit monitoring 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 if your identity has been compromised.
Protecting your financial identity is very important these days, and a little vigilance can go a long way. So, if you are concerned about the security of your credit, contact a credit bureau to place a fraud alert on your credit report. 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. Do not ignore the possibility of your information being compromised, even if you think it’s unlikely to happen to you.
Take a few minutes out of your day to add a fraud alert to your credit report so that you can avoid dealing with identity theft. You could potentially save yourself months of headaches in the future.