If your Social Security number has been stolen, you may be wondering what you can do to avoid potential credit issues. For starters, you have credit freezes or credit locks that will prohibit people from opening new credit in your name. But these options also make it harder to get credit in your own name. So, it may be a good idea to consider the less restrictive option of a fraud alert.
A fraud alert is a notice that is placed on your credit report that notifies creditors and other financial institutions that you may have been a victim of fraud. It’s like a red flag for creditors that an account being opened in your name may not be legitimate. The type of alert you need will vary depending on your situation. But a fraud alert may be a good place to start to avoid identity theft.
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What is a fraud alert?
A fraud alert is a free notification you can place on your credit report. It instructs creditors and financial institutions to take extra steps to verify your identity before processing a new credit card or loan application.
The purpose behind a fraud alert is to add an extra layer of security to credit applications. The goal is to prevent identity thieves from opening accounts in your name. Fraud alerts do not impact your credit score. They simply protect you from identity theft.
What does a fraud alert do?
A fraud alert makes it more difficult for someone to open a new credit account using your stolen personally identifiable information. A fraud alert pauses credit check processes and instructs a bank or lender to take extra caution and verify your identity before they access your credit report.
For example, a lender may contact you at a provided phone number and ask security questions before completing a request for a new credit line. This makes it more difficult for fraudsters to open new accounts in your name. However, it is important to note that a fraud alert would not prevent an identity thief from using an already stolen credit card.
Types of fraud alerts
Fraud alerts are a great option for preventing identity theft because they offer different benefits for specific situations.
There are the three types of fraud alerts:
- Initial fraud alert
- Extended fraud alert
- Active-duty fraud alert
Initial fraud alert
Initial fraud alerts, sometimes referred to as temporary alerts, can be implemented at any time by anyone for any reason. An initial fraud alert used to last 90-days, but since September 21, 2018 they last up to a year and do not require any documentation to set up.
Simply contact one of the credit bureaus, and they will alert the other two. Or instead of waiting for them to contact one another, you can call the three credit bureaus individually and make sure they put fraud alerts in place.
Unsure if you already have a fraud alert set? You can call each bureau to ask if you have a fraud alert in place.
Extended fraud alert
If you have confirmation that you have been the victim of identity theft, then an extended fraud alert can help protect you. While initial fraud alerts only last one year, extended fraud alerts last seven years. They also remove you from receiving pre-screened (unsolicited) credit and insurance offers for five years.
An added benefit is that you will be able to get a free copy of your credit report twice per year from each credit bureau. That means you can review up to six credit reports each year. As an additional protective measure, you can ask that your reports be sent without your full Social Security number.
Active-duty fraud alert
This is an alert for Service Members that get deployed on active duty and want to keep their credit from being accessed or misused. Much like temporary or initial fraud alerts, active-duty alerts last one year. They may be extended if the deployment lasts longer than a year.
Service Members can have a personal representative add an active duty alert on their behalf if they have already been deployed. The personal representative must have the Power of Attorney and the legal authority to act on your behalf. So, if a culprit attempts to open a new credit line in your name, your personal representative can handle the verification process required with an active-duty fraud alert.
When should you set up a fraud alert?
Often times, fraud alerts are recommended over credit freezes or credit locks because they are less extreme methods of preventing fraudulent credit activities. Extended fraud alerts, however, are comparable in extremity to credit freezes since they last seven years and require a police or identity theft report to set up. Implementing a fraud alert can let you know if someone is trying to open new accounts in your name.
In some cases, people will go so far as to set up a credit freeze and put fraud alerts in place to further protect themselves from perpetrators of identity theft. However, be aware that freezes and fraud alerts cannot stop fraudulent charges on an existing credit or debit account. They can only prevent new accounts from being opened in your name.
How to put a fraud alert on your credit report
To request a fraud alert, simply contact one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion). This is one of the few instances where the credit bureaus share information. So, you only need to contact one bureau to place an alert on your credit report.
How to place a fraud alert with Equifax
To place an initial fraud alert with Equifax, either create or sign-in to your myEquifax account. Or you can call their automated line at 888-766-0008. You can also place an initial fraud alert by mail by downloading and following the instructions on the Alert Request form.
Once you complete the form, you can submit it to:
Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30348-5069
Conversely, if you need to place an extended fraud alert, simply download and follow the instructions on the Extended Fraud Alert Request form. Note, however, that you will need to include additional documentation showing you are a victim of identity theft. The documentation can be a police report that you file about the theft or an identity theft report that you complete through IdentityTheft.gov.
How to place a fraud alert with Experian
Now, to place an initial fraud alert with Experian, you will need fill out their website form. You can also call their automated line at 888-397-3742.
Fraud alert applications can be submitted by mail to:
National Consumer Assistance
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
If you need to place an extended fraud alert, simply follow the instructions on their Extended Fraud Alert Request form. As with Equifax, you will need to provide a police report or identity theft report to set up an extended alert.
How to place a fraud alert with TransUnion
Finally, if you are looking to place an initial fraud alert with TransUnion, visit their website, create an account and follow the steps provided. You can also call toll-free line at 800-680-7289.
You can submit applications by mail to:
Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
If you need to place an extended fraud alert, simply fill out their Extended Fraud Alert Request form and follow the instructions. You will need to provide a police or identity theft report to set up the alert.
How to remove a fraud alert
Fraud alerts will expire automatically after a set time—one year for initial and active-duty alerts and seven years for an extended alert. If you wish to remove a fraud alert before its expiration date, you will need to contact each credit bureau. In this case, the bureaus will not communicate; you must contact all three directly.
Generally, they require that you provide two documents that verify your identity, like a government-issued ID, state driver’s license, utility bill or bank statement.
You can do this either by going online to the bureaus’ respective websites, calling their toll-free numbers, or by mailing in the necessary documentation. All in all, fraud alerts are a useful option to help protect your personal data. They can protect you without creating major obstacles that hinder your ability to apply for a new credit line or a loan.
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Article last modified on November 8, 2022. Published by Debt.com, LLC