It seems like we hear about another data breach daily on the news. These days consumers must do all they can to protect their identity and prevent fraud on their credit or bank accounts. One of the ways you can combat the bad guys is by using a fraud alert on your credit report.
What is a Fraud Alert?
A fraud alert is a tool that consumers can use in conjunction with the three big credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) to help reduce the likelihood of a thief stealing your identity and opening lines of credit in your name. Basically, the fraud alert is a notice on your credit report that tells lenders that you have been the victim of identity theft or fraud, and they need to take extra precautions to verify your identity before lending you money. What this means is that they will make an appointment to call you and ask specific questions about your application and other personal details to verify that it is indeed you, requesting the money.
Types of Fraud Alert
There are three types of fraud alerts that you can use. Each has a specific purpose and consumer in mind.
Standard Fraud Alert
This is the one that most people use. Once you place it on your credit report, it will stay on there for a year. You can call before that year is up to extend it for another year. You can do this for as long as you like.
Active-duty Fraud Alert
This one is for enlisted men and women while they are overseas. They can initiate it, or someone who has their Power of Attorney may also put one on their credit report on their behalf if they are already deployed.
Extended Fraud Alert
This is for people who have been the victim of identity theft and incurred fraud. You must have filed a report with the police or a complaint with the FTC if you want to use this one. It will stay on your credit report for a period of seven years.
When Should You Use?
If you have been the victim of identity theft or fraud due to one of these data breaches, malware, or some other way, you should consider a fraud alert. The good news is, putting a fraud alert on your credit report will not negatively affect your score.
How to Replace and Remove Fraud Alerts
Adding and removing fraud alerts is very easy. All you have to do is contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies by mail, phone, or online and request one be added to your account. The credit bureau you contact must share the information with the other two; they are required to do so by law (the Fair Credit Reporting Act).
How to Add a Fraud Alert to Your Credit Report
- Contact one of the agencies below:
Equifax Online or by calling 1-888-836-6351.
Experian Online or by calling 1-888-397-3742.
TransUnion Online or by calling 1-800-680-7289.
- Be careful to request a fraud alert and not a credit freeze, they are different tools, and you won’t be able to get any credit yourself without removing a credit freeze. What is a Fraud Alert and How to Remove it?
- Put the date in your calendar and either let it pass or before a year is up, remember to contact the credit agency again to renew it. You should also get a copy of your credit report each year and review it for errors and indications of fraud. If you no longer want the fraud alert, it will be removed automatically after one year. If you want it removed earlier, follow the instructions below.
How to Remove a Fraud Alert from Your Credit Report
To remove a fraud alert, you will have to contact the credit reporting agency again and fill out a form. They will also require that you validate your identity to ensure that it is really you removing it.
How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft and Fraud
A fraud alert is only one tool that consumers can use to protect themselves. There are also credit freezes, credit locks, and also credit monitoring. If you sign up with a good company like IDStrong.com and have them monitor your credit, you will have one less thing to worry about. Some other ways to protect yourself against fraud and identity theft are:
- Get a copy of your credit report at least once a year and check it for errors and fraud.
- Never give out your personal information to anyone you don’t know.
- Keep your computer updated with the latest security patches and antivirus software.
- Never click on links or download attachments in email.
- Watch out for phishing or other suspicious emails.
- Consider using a VPN to shield your online activities from hackers.
- Carefully monitor your bank and credit card statements each month.
Although you cannot protect yourself 100% from hackers, thieves, and cybercriminals, you can stay alert, use common sense, and respond quickly if you are on top of all these things and know what to look for and what to do.