In the past ten years, there have been numerous data breaches of big companies like Anthem, Home Depot, Target, Capital One, Chili’s, Facebook, Google, and others. Consumers often don’t understand the ramifications of these data breaches and how to respond if they are affected. In each data breach, millions of customers’ data was stolen, and a lot of it ended up on the dark web, ripe for criminals looking to steal your identity.
What is Credit Card Fraud?
In a few of the recent data breaches, the information stolen or accessed was credit card numbers, PINs, and banking information. If thieves get their hands on your information, they can charge purchases and services under your name on your card, and you will be responsible. Credit card fraud is when someone uses your credit card number to make unauthorized purchases without your knowledge.
What is Identity Theft?
One of the main reasons fraudsters want your personal information is to steal your identity. That means they can use your driver’s license number, social security number, and other data to open lines of credit in your name. They may also impersonate you and then commit crimes that can open up a whole can of worms for you. Being the victim of identity theft can create some serious problems for you, and it is often difficult to untangle the mess left behind by these cons. One way is to put a fraud alert on your credit report.
What is a Fraud Alert?
A fraud alert is a notice that you put on your credit report, with all three agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) that tells creditors you have been a victim of identity theft. This notice alerts the agencies to be on the lookout for anyone trying to open up new accounts. Once the fraud alert is on your account, banks and other lending institutions must take extra steps to verify your identity before extending any credit. Unlike a credit freeze, your credit is still open to inquiries, but the notice is an important part of your protection.
There are a few different types of credit fraud alerts. There is an initial fraud alert that only lasts for 90 days then expires. There is also an active duty fraud alert available to military personnel. Then there is also an extended fraud alert.
What is an Extended Credit Fraud Alert?
An extended fraud alert lasts for seven years. It is only available to individuals who have been the victim of identity theft. To qualify, you must have reported the identity theft to the FTC and local authorities. You have to fill out an identity theft report. You only have to alert one of the credit reporting agencies, and then they must contact the other two to have the notice placed on there as well. With an extended credit fraud alert, you are eligible to get a free copy of your credit report twice a year instead of once. All three credit bureaus must also remove your name and information from marketing lists of prescreened offers for up to five years.
How to Sign Up for an Extended Fraud Alert?
If you wake up one day only to realize your identity has been stolen, take steps quickly to minimize the damage. A fraud alert is only one tool at your disposal. Signing up is quick and easy.
- Contact the FTC and fill out an Identity Theft Report.
- Contact one of the three credit reporting agencies (below) and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your account. You will need to provide a copy of the Identity Theft Report.
- Mark your calendar. The extended fraud alert will stay on there for seven years.
- Get copies of your credit reports from all three agencies to see where things stand.
- Contact banks, vendors, and others to correct any errors on your report.
Other things you can do to keep your identity safe are:
- Consider a credit freeze to prevent anyone from opening up lines of credit in your name.
- Sign up for credit monitoring with a good company like IDStrong.com and let them watch things for you.
- Carefully monitor your credit card and bank statements each month.
- Watch out for phishing emails or scams. Identity thieves often use your information for these types of crimes.
- Keep your computers and mobile devices updated with the latest operating system and security patches.
- Install and run antivirus software frequently.
Keep your eyes and ears open for anything that sounds “off” or too good to be true. Once criminals get their hands on your information, they will use it to contact you and try to scam you out of even more of your hard-earned money.