What Is a Fraud Alert?


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.

cyber thief

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. By getting in touch with one of the three major credit bureaus, you can make it very difficult for anyone to open up new credit 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 is a notice placed on your credit report that lets creditors know that you may be at risk of identity theft. It’s a good idea to place a fraud alert on your credit report if you 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 accessing your credit report. This helps to ensure that you are the one requesting the account, rather than an imposter with access to your social security number or other identifying information.

What does a fraud alert do?

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 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, a fraud alert does not 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.

Temporary Fraud Alerts

The temporary alert is used when you think your personal information has been compromised, but you’re unsure. For example, 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 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. 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 agencies 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 that result from suspicious or actual illegal activity, 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, 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. 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. Unfortunately, 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 fraud alerts on your credit report. To get started with the process, pick which credit bureau you want to work with.

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, including 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.

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 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.

Credit Monitoring

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.

See also: Identity Theft: Follow These 10 Steps To Recover If Your Identity Is Stolen

Bottom Line

Protecting your financial identity is very important these days, and a little vigilance can go a long way. So anytime you feel concerned about the security of your credit, reach out to 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. 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 to your credit report so that you can avoid dealing with identity theft. You could potentially save yourself months of headaches in the future.

Lauren Ward
Meet the author

Lauren is a Crediful writer whose aim is to give readers the financial tools they need to reach their own goals in life. She has written on personal finance issues for over six years and holds a Bachelor's degree in Japanese from Georgetown University.