You were running around doing errands all weekend. From the field at your kid’s soccer game to the mall, it seems as though you covered every square inch of your town. You get home and check your pocket; your wallet is missing.
Don’t panic. In addition to calling your bank and credit card companies to report your cards lost or stolen or using your banking app to turn off your cards, you can take other steps to protect yourself from identity theft and credit card fraud.
In fact, if you have any reason to be concerned about identity theft or fraud,there’s a free service all three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) offer that can help you protect yourself: a fraud alert.
What Is a Credit Report Fraud Alert?
A credit report fraud alert tells creditors you may have recently been a victim of identity theft. Once you add a fraud alert to your credit report through one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) that credit bureau also alerts the other two organizations. When potential lenders and creditors see a fraud alert, they should take additional steps to verify your identity before granting credit.
Credit report fraud alerts are different from other types of alerts, such as credit freezes or identity theft reports. A credit freeze prevents anyone, including you, from accessing your credit report without your permission. An identity theft report, as the name suggests, shows creditors that you recently fell victim to identity theft.
If you file an identity theft report, you should also put a fraud alert on your credit report or even freeze your report to make it harder for criminals to open new lines of credit in your name. As an added benefit, when you place a fraud alert on your credit report, you’re eligible to get a free copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus twice in that year instead of just once.
Types of Credit Report Fraud Alerts
Consumers can rely on three different types of credit report fraud alerts, depending on the situation. They vary in duration and who qualifies for each type of alert.
Initial Fraud Alert
If you worry you’ve been a victim of fraud or just want an added layer of protection for your credit and identity, you can easily apply for an initial fraud alert. This alert lasts for one year. It encourages companies to take an extra step, like calling a phone number you provide, to confirm you filled out a new credit or loan application.
An initial fraud alert doesn’t prevent you from applying for new credit. (That’s the job of a credit freeze.) It also doesn’t prevent criminals from using your existing credit cards if they’ve gained access to your account number.
Extended Fraud Alert
An extended fraud alert lasts for seven years. It takes a little more paperwork to apply, but it’s also free.
You can only apply if you’re a victim of identity theft and file a police report or a report at IdentityTheft.gov. Since gathering all the documentation takes time, you can file an initial fraud alert in the meantime.
In addition to receiving an additional free copy of your credit report from all three bureaus the year you place the alert, you will also be removed from marketing lists for unsolicited credit card and insurance offers for five years.
Members of the U.S. military can protect their credit for added peace of mind while they’re deployed. An active-duty alert functions just like an initial fraud alert, making it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Like an initial fraud alert, an active-duty alert lasts for one year.
How Credit Report Fraud Alerts Work
When you file a credit report fraud alert, banks, credit card companies, and lenders should take an extra step to verify your information before approving your credit application.
Often, that means they must call a phone number you provide to verify that you really completed the application. A fraud alert also allows you to secure a second free credit report from each of the three bureaus in the year you initiate the report.
Keep in mind that a fraud alert does not stop criminals from using your existing credit cards to make fraudulent purchases.
Placing a Credit Report Fraud Alert
Fortunately, it’s easy and free to place a fraud alert on your credit report. Once you place the alert with one credit bureau, they share the information with the other bureaus. The steps you take depend on whether you want to place an initial fraud alert or an extended one.
How to Place an Initial Fraud Alert
You don’t need to be a victim of identity theft or credit card fraud to request an initial fraud alert. To place one, reach out to one of the three credit bureaus. Each has a slightly different process.
Visit Equifax’s fraud and active-duty alert page to place a fraud alert with Equifax. You must log in to your account and provide your name, address, and Social Security number. You can also call 800-525-6285 to request a fraud alert by phone.
To place a fraud alert with Experian, you can visit the fraud alert center and select “Add a fraud alert.” Choose the type of alert, and then fill out the information requested on the form. You need a valid email address and your Social Security number. You can also call to place a fraud alert at 888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742).
To place your fraud alert with TransUnion, visit TransUnion’s fraud alert page. Log in to your TransUnion account and provide a valid email address and your Social Security number. You can also call 800-916-8800 to place a fraud alert by phone.
How to Place an Extended Fraud Alert on Your Credit Reports
Placing an extended fraud alert requires a few extra steps and some additional information. For example, you must file and submit an identity theft report. You can download the form to mail at these websites:
Each credit bureau has slightly different requirements to prove your identity and address.
Before mailing the form, gather all the documents you must mail with it, including the:
- Police report, law enforcement agency report, or Federal Trade Commission identity theft report
- Photocopy of documentation to prove your identity, such as your Social Security card, pay stub with your Social Security number, W2, or 1099.
- Photocopy of paperwork to prove your mailing address, such as a driver’s license or state ID card, rental lease agreement, house deed, pay stub showing your address, bank statement with your address, or utility bill with your address.
TransUnion also accepts a canceled check with your home address, a stamped P.O. Box receipt, or a signed letter from a homeless shelter as proof of residence.
Once you’ve gathered this information, send it to one of the bureaus along with the extended fraud alert form you downloaded from the website. Experian allows you to upload the form and supporting documents electronically.
Once you’ve gathered the necessary documentation, mail the form you downloaded and printed to the appropriate address below.
|Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30348-5069
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Benefits of Placing a Credit Report Fraud Alert
If you’re wondering if you should place a credit report fraud alert, then you should. A fraud alert can help protect you from identity theft and credit card fraud, which provides added peace of mind.
If you’ve been a victim of fraud or recently lost your wallet or misplaced important documents like your driver’s license, it’s worth taking the time to place a credit report fraud alert.
Although a credit report fraud alert can’t stop thieves from using your existing credit cards (you have to report those stolen), it makes it harder for someone to open new credit in your name.
If you place an extended fraud alert, you’ll also be free from unsolicited credit card or insurance applications for five years. That means less junk mail and less chance thieves can open credit cards or apply for insurance in your name.
While the Federal Trade Commission’s data shows instances of credit card fraud dropped slightly from 2021 to 2022, the amount of money scammed from consumers rose by 30% in the past year, up to a staggering $8.8 billion. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
For instance, use virtual account numbers for online shopping, read your bank and credit card statements carefully, and sign up to receive notifications via text if a card shows unusual activity. Finally, set up an initial credit report fraud alert as an added layer of identity protection.