Every two seconds, an American falls victim to identity fraud, according to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research. Whether you suspect you’re vulnerable to identity theft or your privacy has already been violated, being proactive is your best bet to keep the fraud from getting worse.
Putting a fraud alert on your credit report notifies anyone who reviews your report for purposes of issuing credit that the person applying may be an identity thief. Although creditors aren’t required to contact you if you have a fraud alert, most do to protect themselves from fraud.
“The best offense is a good defense when it comes to identity theft,” says Ken Chaplin, senior vice president at TransUnion, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus. “Once they suspect fraud, we recommend quickly taking actions to alert the credit bureaus and lenders to mitigate the effects.”
It’s free to request a fraud alert on your credit report, but make sure to request the right one based on your situation.
1. If you suspect you may become a fraud victim
If something happens that makes you think your personal information has been or may be compromised, you can place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. This alert lasts 90 days, and you can renew it indefinitely. It also entitles you to order a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus.
Make sure your phone number is up to date in case a creditor calls to verify your identity before approving a credit application. To request an initial fraud alert, contact one of the three credit bureaus and provide sufficient proof of identity. The bureau will typically forward your request to the other two bureaus within 24 hours.
If you’re concerned about creditors not contacting you after you’ve placed a fraud alert on your account, Chaplin notes that TransUnion offers credit monitoring services that notify you of credit inquiries and other activities, though it comes with a monthly fee. Experian and Equifax offer similar services.
2. If you’re going on active duty
If you’re in the military and want to minimize the risk of identity theft while you’re deployed, an active-duty alert is your best bet. It will stay on your credit report for one year, and the bureaus will remove your name from their marketing lists for preapproval credit offers for two years. If you’re deployed longer than one year, you have the option to renew the active-duty alert until you return from duty. As with an initial fraud alert, creditors generally contact you at a number you provide to verify your identity before approving an application for credit.
To request an active-duty alert, contact one of the three credit bureaus and provide sufficient proof of identity.
3. If you’ve been a victim of fraud
If someone has already committed identity theft using your personal information, you may be able to request an extended fraud alert to be placed on your credit report. An extended fraud alert remains on your report for seven years. Plus, you’ll receive two free credit reports within 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus and have your name removed from marketing lists for preapproval offers for five years. It’s also more likely that creditors will contact you before extending credit if you have an extended fraud alert, so be sure to provide your contact number for creditors to call in case of a credit inquiry.
To qualify for an extended fraud alert, you must file a police report or an identity theft report and provide sufficient proof of identity. Unlike with an initial fraud alert and an active-duty alert, you must submit an extended fraud alert request with all three of the credit bureaus.
Credit bureau contact information
You can contact the credit bureaus online, by phone or by mail (Experian offers only online and phone):
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022-2000
Equifax Consumer Fraud Division
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
The bottom line
A fraud alert in any form isn’t foolproof. Some companies, including cellphone providers, cable companies and some utility companies, don’t even require a credit check. But placing a fraud alert on your credit report is the first step to preventing most fraud, thus protecting your good name and your financial future.
Image via iStock.