Financial institutions do their best to combat fraud, but discovering it can take months sometimes.
In some cases, you might find out fraud has been committed only when a debt collector comes calling, there’s a drop in your credit score, or an unfamiliar account pops up on your credit report.
However, placing a fraud alert on a credit report can help prevent what’s called new-account fraud. This type of fraud happens when an identity thief opens a new credit account in your name.
Read on to learn about when and how to sign up for these fraud alert protections.
3 types of credit report fraud alerts
When a fraud alert is on your credit report, creditors will call you before approving a credit application. They’ll verify your identity and confirm you’re the applicant.
Setting up a fraud alert on your credit report is free, but it’s important to know which one is suitable for your situation.
1. Initial fraud alert
The most basic of the three, an initial fraud alert lasts only 90 days. However, you can renew it after the period is over.
You’ll receive access to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, which will allow you to check recent activity to make sure no damage has been done already.
This option is best if you suspect you might become a victim of identity theft or if you’ve been a victim but haven’t reported the fraud.
2. Extended fraud alert
If you’re a victim of identity theft already and have submitted an identity theft report, you can place an extended fraud alert on a credit report.
An extended fraud alert lasts seven years. You’ll receive access to two free copies of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus within 12 months, which will give you more time to check your credit reports to make sure the fraudster doesn’t try to come back for more.
What’s more, credit reporting companies must remove your name from their marketing lists for prescreened offers for five years.
3. Active duty alert
A purely precautionary measure, active duty alerts are for service members who head out for deployment. Active duty alerts last for one year but can be renewed as long as you’re in active duty.
In addition to normal verification requirements for creditors, the alert also requires that credit reporting companies take your name off their marketing lists. You won’t receive prescreened offers for two years.
How to set up a fraud alert on your credit report
To set up an initial fraud alert or active duty alert, you need to contact only one of the three national credit bureaus. It will then forward the request to the other two.
With extended fraud alerts, however, you must contact all three bureaus to place an alert. You can request an alert online or by phone:
- Phone: 888-397-3742
- Online (initial and active duty alerts only)
- Phone: 800-525-6285
- Phone: 800-680-7289
When you request an alert, you’ll need to verify your identity. You’ll also want to include a phone number creditors can call to verify your identity.
How to remove a fraud alert on your credit report
Both Experian and TransUnion allow you to remove fraud alerts online. You also can call to remove them. With Equifax, you must call to remove your fraud alert. You can remove a fraud alert at any time.
Stay vigilant to avoid all types of fraud
Adding a fraud alert on a credit report is a great way to help prevent new-account fraud. But it doesn’t do anything to prevent other types of fraudulent activity.
To protect yourself, keep track of your bank and credit card accounts. Banks and credit unions try to catch fraudulent purchases, but their computers can’t catch everything.
Also, avoid giving out your payment information to just anyone. For example, don’t buy something online if the website is not secure. You usually can see whether a website is secure by looking at the address bar at the top of your browser.
Lastly, keep an eye on your credit score. If you notice any big changes, it could be a sign that something is wrong.
Identity theft is a real threat. But if you remain vigilant, you can limit the opportunities fraudsters have to steal your information.
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