A stolen identity can be a financial nightmare. Phony accounts, tax refund theft and ruined credit are just a few of the resulting headaches. Below, we show you how a fraud alert can stop thieves in their tracks.
Fraud alerts on credit reports are free, easy to place and provide a decent level of protection for victims of identity theft or those who think they might be victimized. Paired with credit monitoring, fraud alerts can stop potential identity thieves cold.
It’s easy to place a fraud alert on a credit report by contacting one of the three main credit reporting bureaus. This can be done by phone or at their online credit reporting assistants. To access any fraud alert assistant, click the link below:
A fraud alert requires most financial institutions to verify your identity before extending new lines of credit. They’re not infallible, so the addition of credit monitoring is recommended. In extreme cases, a credit freeze might also become necessary.
Why Put a Fraud Alert on a Credit Report?
The U.S. Bureau of Justice states that in 2012 alone, over 16 million people experienced identity theft. Consumers can put fraud alerts on their credit reports when:
- A bank tells them their personal information has been compromised. Banks and other lenders have to tell consumers if a security breach has leaked account numbers or other information. For example, in 2014 over a million credit card numbers were stolen from Staples. By law, the affected credit card companies had to notify their customers about the breach.
- Their wallet, purse, or personal info was stolen. Thieves can sell social security numbers and credit card numbers or use them in their own scams.
- They’ve been victimized by “phishing.” Phishing is when a phony call or email tricks a victim into supplying personal information.
- They’re worried that they may become a victim, for any reason.
How do Fraud Alerts Work?
A fraud alert on a credit report asks lenders to verify the borrower’s identity before extending a new line of credit. Lenders do this by calling the phone number the borrower puts in the fraud alert they set up ahead of time.
Fraud alerts are free, they don’t affect credit scores and they’re easy to set up. Short term fraud alerts last 90 days and can be renewed at will.
Fraud Alert Contact Information:
To set up a fraud alert, contact any one of the three main credit reporting bureaus:
- Phone: 1-800-685-1111
- Equifax Online Fraud Alert Assistant
- Phone: 1-888-397-3742
- Experian Online Fraud Alert Assistant
- Phone: 800-680-7289
- TransUnion Online Fraud Alert Assistant
Consumers seeking fraud alerts only need to contact one of the three credit reporting agencies. That’s because an alert placed at one agency is passed on to the other two.
Long Term Fraud Alerts
Long term fraud alerts last seven years and can be removed upon request. They require a copy of an identity theft report from a law enforcement agency. This can be a local police station, but identity theft reports can also be obtained from the Federal Trade Commission’s online assistant.
Usually, consumers are entitled to one free credit report per year from each credit reporting bureau. However, long term fraud alerts entitle victims to two free credit reports per bureau for the next twelve months.
Active Duty Alerts for Military Members
Military members on active duty can place active duty alerts on their credit reports. These work like fraud alerts in that they force banks to verify the borrower’s identity. They’re free and they last a year. They’re intended to stop thieves from opening fake accounts while military members are overseas.
Some accounts, like checking accounts, can be opened without pulling a consumer’s credit report. That means a fraud alert won’t stop those kinds of accounts from being fraudulently opened. Further, fraud alerts only stop new accounts. For that reason, criminals who have consumers’ existing account info won’t be stopped by fraud alerts. For instance, fraud alerts don’t stop thieves from using stolen credit cards.
Further Credit Protection
Paid credit monitoring by any of the three credit reporting bureaus can provide an extra layer of protection. By regularly checking credit reports, consumers can spot suspicious activity early on. Each of the three bureaus has its own credit monitoring portal:
- Equifax Credit Monitoring — $17.95 per month
- Experian Credit Monitoring — $19.95 per month
- TransUnion CreditMonitoring — $17.95 per month
A credit monitoring service like IdentityGuard.com monitors reports from all three bureaus and gives monthly access to the credit score as well. The price is $19.99 per month.
Alternately, it’s easy to monitor credit for free, simply by checking one report from each of the three credit bureaus every 4 months. To do this, go to AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s the only site authorized by the U.S. government to distribute all three reports for free to consumers. However, be careful only to request one report. That way the other two will still be available later in the year.
A Credit Freeze for Extreme Situations Only
Consumers with severe identity theft problems can seek a credit freeze. A credit freeze can help someone who’s being victimized repeatedly by the same criminal. Credit freezes block all new credit accounts. The drawback is, the freeze must be removed each time a legitimate account is opened, then replaced afterward. Credit freezes are free to proven victims of identity theft. Others will pay as much as $10 for a credit freeze.
- Victims of Identity Theft, 2012 – Bureau of Justice Statistics
- Place a Fraud Alert – Federal Trade Commission
- I may have been the victim of fraud or identity theft. How can I put a fraud alert on my credit report? – Consumer Finance Protection Bureau
- Create an Identity Theft Report – Federal Trade Commission