A fraud alert (valid for one year) notifies lenders to call you to verify your identity before extending new credit. This extra step ensures that you are undoubtedly you, and not an imposter trying to open a new credit account to buy a new car in your name. Even better, you only need to add the alert with one bureau and they’ll notify the other two. The best part? It won’t cost you a dime.
A fraud alert con credit reports an make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. You can place a fraud alert by asking one of the three nationwide credit bureaus. It has to put the alert on your credit report and tell the other two credit bureaus to do so. The alert lasts one year.
Fraud alerts are a free right given to you by federal law (the Fair Credit Reporting Act or FCRA). When you place a fraud alert on your three credit reports (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), you make it more difficult for identity thieves to open fraudulent accounts in your name.
Fraud alerts let lenders who access your credit reports know that they need to exercise caution when issuing new credit in your name. With fraud alerts in place, lenders must confirm your identity before approving new credit which is attached to your Social Security number.
If a thief were to apply for credit using your information, he would hopefully be stopped whenever the lender reaches out to you (often on the phone number you provide) to verify that the application is legitimate and authorized.
When you’ve been a victim of identity theft, it’s tough to know what to do first. One of the phrases you may have heard when it comes to identity theft is a fraud alert. But do you know what fraud alerts do, what types are available or how fraud alerts work?
A fraud alert is a notice that is placed on your credit report that alerts credit card companies and others who may extend you credit that you may have been a victim of fraud, including identity theft. Think of it as a “red flag” to potential lenders and creditors.
How to place a fraud alert on your credit reports
Here are the steps you can take to place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus.
- Request the right action.
- Obtain a free credit report.
- Let the fraud alert expire or remove it early if it’s no longer necessary.
- Renew the fraud alert or request a different type if necessary.
1. Contact one of the three major credit bureaus
You can ask for a fraud alert to be placed on your account with the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion or Experian — by requesting the alert online or by phone.
You need to contact only one of the three main credit bureaus to place fraud alerts on your credit reports from all three. That bureau is required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act to then notify the other two credit bureaus of the alert.
2. Request the right action
Make sure you ask for the correct action. While a 90-day or seven-year fraud alert informs creditors that a consumer may be a victim of fraud, it’s not the same as a credit freeze. You can still open a new account with a fraud alert after the creditor does its due diligence and contacts you. A credit freeze, also sometimes called a security freeze, prevents lenders from checking your credit in order to open a new account. Since most lenders won’t open an account without checking at least one credit report, a credit freeze effectively can prevent new account openings.
3. Obtain and review a free copy of your credit reports
You’re legally allowed to receive an extra copy of your credit report from each bureau after filing an initial fraud alert. With an extended alert, you’re allowed up to two free copies of your credit report from each credit bureau that placed the fraud alert for up to 12 months after the bureau placed the alert.
4. Let the fraud alert expire or remove it early if it’s no longer necessary
You can let the fraud alert expire or request that the credit bureau remove it prior to its 90-day expiration if you no longer need it. If you remove the fraud alert early, you must notify each bureau on your own to have that bureau take it off your report.
5. Renew the fraud alert or request a different type if necessary
After 90 days, you can renew the fraud alert if you wish. If you want, you can request an extended fraud alert, which can stay in effect for seven years. To do this, make sure you’ve created an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission. Don’t forget, sometimes certain credit reporting companies or creditors will also require a police report before filing an extended fraud alert.
Why Place a Fraud Alert on Credit Report
Three nationwide credit bureaus keep records of your credit history. If someone has misused your personal information – or even if you're concerned about identity theft, but haven't yet become a victim – you can place a fraud alert. For example, you may want to place a fraud alert if your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial or account information is lost or stolen. You also may want to place a fraud alert if your personal information was exposed in a data breach. A fraud alert is free. The credit bureau you contact must tell the other two about your alert.
A fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit, so it may try to contact you. The alert stays on your report for one year. You can get a new one after one year. It allows you to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. Be sure the credit bureaus have your current contact information so they can get in touch with you.
Types of Fraud Alerts on Credit Reports
There are two main types of fraud alerts you can place in your credit reports: initial fraud alerts and extended alerts.
The initial fraud alert expires after 90 days. Once it expires, the credit bureaus will automatically remove it from your reports. After the initial fraud alert is removed, you can then request another 90-day fraud alert if you think you’re still at risk for identity theft.
An extended fraud alert can last seven years and can only be placed on your credit reports after your identity has been stolen and you’ve filed an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission.
Sometimes you’ll also need to file a report with local law enforcement. With an extended alert, a creditor must contact you in person or through your designated contact method to make sure that you’re actually the person trying to request credit.
Three types of fraud alerts that you can implement on your credit reports
These are the three types of fraud alerts that you can implement on your credit reports:
- Initial (90-day) fraud alert
- Active duty alert
- Extended fraud alert
Initial fraud alert
If you suspect your wallet, financial information or credit card number has been lost or stolen, you can ask for an initial fraud alert to be placed on your credit file.
An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days. During that time, it should be more difficult for an identity thief to open accounts in your name because the alert requires a business to verify your identity before a new line of credit is approved.
You can apply for an initial fraud alert by phone, mail, or online, using the contact information above.
Calling? The fraud alert hotline for each CRA is automated, so you won’t speak to a person. You’ll be asked to provide your Social Security number, the numbers in your mailing address, and your birth date.
The CRA websites noted above will take you to where you can submit your request online or mail a written fraud alert letter.
Remember, initial fraud alerts last only 90 days, but they can be renewed. You’ll have to remind yourself to do so. Otherwise, they’ll expire. Also, requesting such an alert also entitles you to order one free credit report from each credit reporting agency.
Active duty alert
If you’re a service member and about to be deployed, you can place an active duty alert on your credit report that lasts for one year and can be renewed for the length of your deployment.
This can be very helpful in protecting your identity while deployed, because a business will have to take extra steps before giving credit in your name.
To be granted this protection, you’ll need to provide proof of your identity with a government-issued ID card, driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport.
The credit reporting agencies also will take your name off of their marketing list for prescreened credit cards for two years, which can provide an additional layer of protection.
Extended fraud alert
Is that it? Not so fast. If your Social Security number has been exposed, you’ll likely need longer protection. This is because your Social Security number might not be used right away. Thieves may wait, using it to commit identity theft months or even years later. In that case, the initial 90-day alert likely wouldn’t help or offer enough protection. And you can't replace your Social Security number as easily as you can obtain a new credit card number.
A safer option in this case is to place an extended fraud alert, which is free to place and remove—and lasts for seven years.
An extended fraud alert lets you access your credit report only when companies take steps to verify your identity. It’s available only by mail and only for identity theft victims who show their identity has in fact been stolen.
What this means is you must provide an identity theft report in the form of a police report and your personal statement about the ID theft. Or you can create an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission by filling out an online form or calling 1-877-438-4338.
An extended fraud alert requires more information, so each bureau has paperwork for you to fill out:
- Experian provides a letter—for initial alerts, extended alerts, and fraud alert removals—that you can mail to the address above along with a copy of a government-issued ID card and one copy of a utility bill, bank statement, etc.
- TransUnion provides an extended alert form that you must print and mail to the address above.
- Equifax also provides an extended alert form that you must fax or mail along with appropriate documents.
When to place a fraud alert on credit reports
“Consumers should place a fraud alert on their credit at the first sign of identity theft or fraud on their account, such as an unauthorized new line of credit opened in their name,” says John Danaher, president of Consumer Interactive at TransUnion.
Even though a fraud alert is placed on your credit reports, there’s no guarantee the alert will stop identity theft.
“Keep in mind that while a fraud alert is an important line of defense, and a red flag for lenders, it doesn’t fully prevent unauthorized accounts from being opened,” says Danaher.
Will a fraud alert on credit reports affect my credit scores?
“A fraud alert does not have any impact on a consumer’s credit rating,” Danaher says.
However, the alert can sometimes delay certain credit applications until your identity can be verified.
Here are seven things you might not know about fraud alerts.
- A fraud alert encourages third parties to take extra steps to verify your identity before extending credit. What exactly does this mean? With an initial one-year fraud alert, companies are encouraged to take reasonable steps to confirm you are who you say you are, such as contacting you at a phone number you provide, before completing a request for credit. This can make it more difficult for an identity thief or fraudster to open new accounts or modify existing accounts in your name. However, it’s important to note a fraud alert would not prevent an identity thief from attempting to use an existing account – a credit card, for example.
- There is a seven-year fraud alert available to you. These fraud alerts are also known as extended fraud alerts. An extended fraud alert on your credit reports lasts for seven years. In order to place an extended fraud alert, a police report or a Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Report is required.
- For service members, there is an active duty military alert. An active duty alert is an option specifically available for U.S. service men and women. Like an initial one-year fraud alert, an active duty alert encourages companies to take extra steps to verify your identity, such as contacting you by phone, before opening new accounts in your name or modifying existing ones. This type of fraud alert also lasts for one year. Service men and women can have a personal representative with a Power of Attorney add an active duty alert on their behalf if they are already deployed.
- You can update or remove a fraud alert by phone or mail. Removing or updating contact information on a fraud alert—one-year, seven-year, or active duty military alert—can be done by phone or mail at any of the three nationwide credit bureaus. At Equifax, if you wish to update your information over the phone, you will need to answer questions that are designed to verify your identity. If your identity can’t be verified, we will provide you with more information about the documents you’ll need to mail to us in order for us to make sure we validate your identity. If you choose to update your information by mail, you'll need to send a request in writing along with documents to verify your identity.
- You only need to contact one of the nationwide credit bureaus in order to have an initial one-year fraud alert, active duty alert or extended fraud alert placed on all three of your credit reports. Fraud alerts are designed so that you only have to contact one of the three nationwide credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian or TransUnion -- online, by phone, or by mail to request an initial one-year fraud alert, active duty alert or extended fraud alert on your credit report. The credit bureau you contact must pass the request on to the other two bureaus.
- Someone else is able to manage your fraud alert on your behalf.
A “personal representative” can be designated to manage a fraud alert on your behalf with a Power of Attorney or court appointed document. The personal representative can add fraud alerts, delete them or update contact information.
- There are many additional resources that offer great information about fraud alerts and fraud-related topics. In addition to the three major credit bureaus, you may find more information about fraud alerts on the Equifax website, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and/or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) websites. Your state Attorney General’s website may also offer educational material on fraud-related topics, including types of fraud and what to do if you’re a victim of fraud.
 What is a fraud alert? https://www.creditkarma.com/id-theft/i/what-fraud-alert/
 Place a Fraud Alert https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0275-place-fraud-alert
 Types of Fraud Alerts https://www.transunion.com/fraud-victim-resource/place-fraud-alert
 7 Things to Know About Fraud Alerts https://www.equifax.com/personal/education/identity-theft/7-things-to-know-about-fraud-alerts/
 How to Place or Remove a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report https://www.lifelock.com/learn-credit-finance-how-to-place-or-remove-a-fraud-alert-on-your-credit-report.html