How to Place a Fraud Alert
Linda Collins - October 17, 2019
If you are a victim of identity theft, or you think you may be a victim of identity theft, one of the first actions you should take is to place a fraud alert. This can make it more difficult for fraudsters to open accounts or lines of credit in your name. Here’s what you should know about placing a fraud alert:
What is a Fraud Alert?
A fraud alert tells credit card companies (along with other credit-establishing institutions) that you might be a victim of fraud – like a red flag for creditors and lenders. This makes it more difficult for companies to determine that you are who you say you are, and since your identity has been stolen, this is a very good thing. Naturally, it will be more tedious for you to open new lines of credit during a fraud alert since you will have to provide more proof of your identity.
One thing to be aware of, however, is that while fraud alerts make it difficult for fraudsters to open new accounts, it does nothing to stop them from attempting to use already-existing accounts like your credit cards. If you’re worried about your credit card being used rather than your identity being stolen, then cancel that card.
How Much Does a Fraud Alert Cost?
A fraud alert is free. It costs absolutely nothing, so if you believe you are a victim of identity theft or fraud, you should not avoid placing a fraud alert because you’re worried about how much money you’ll have to spend.
What Do I Do if I Want a Copy of My Credit Report First?
Have no fear – well, have a little fear, you’re calling for a fraud alert – when you add the fraud alert you are also able to request a free copy of your credit report. When you have your credit report, you will then be able to review it and dispute whatever information you claim or believe is untrue or fraudulent.
When Should I Place a Fraud Alert?
If your wallet, purse, Social Security card, or other types of financial or personal information get lost or stolen, or if a data breach exposes your personal information, you may want to place a fraud alert. After you have filed a police report (in the event of a crime), contact one of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion) right away.
Do I Have to Contact All Three Credit Unions?
No. Whichever credit bureau you contact will contact the other two credit bureaus for you. The purpose of a fraud alert is to alert the right institutions that your identity may be stolen, and the other two credit bureaus are certainly included in that list of the right institutions.
What Happens When I Contact the Credit Union?
After you call one of the credit unions and ask them to put a fraud alert on your credit report, you will get a fraud alert on your report that lasts for a year. Make sure that whichever credit bureau you contact has your current information so they can get in touch with you for any updates or for when the fraud alert is nearing its expiration date.
Can I Get a Fraud Alert for More Than One Year?
Yes. Called an extended fraud alert, this type of fraud alert stays on your credit report for seven years. If you want to place such a fraud alert, then you need either a police report or an FTC (Federal Trade Commission) Identity Theft Report.
I’m Active Military. Is There an Alert for Me?
Yes. Available specifically for active-duty US servicemen and -women, it is similar to the one-year fraud alert, only it can be renewed to match the length of your deployment. A personal representative (discussed in further detail below) is also available for the duration of the fraud alert.
I Don’t Need My Fraud Alert Anymore. Can I Get Rid of it Early?
Yes. Whether you’re updating your contact information or fully removing the fraud alert, you can do so by mail or by phone at any of the three country-wide credit bureaus.
If you wish to do this over the phone, you will be asked several questions designed to prove that you are who you say you are – you are on a fraud alert, after all. If you wish to do so by mail, you will need send in a written request as well as certain documents in order to verify your identity. This generally involves a written letter with a complete explanation of what you want, one item to validate your ID, and one item to validate your address.
The items to validate your ID can include (but are not necessarily limited to):
- Military ID
- Divorce decree
- Marriage Certificate
- Valid driver’s license
- Pay stub
- State ID
- 1099 form
- W2 form
- Birth certificate
- Social Security Card
The items to validate your address can include (but are not necessarily limited to):
- Valid driver’s license
- Pay stub
- State ID
- 1099 form
- W2 form
- Bank statement
- Mortgage statement
- Cell phone bill
- Utility bill (water/gas/residential phone/cable) with the correct address
- House deed/rental lease agreement
Can Someone Else Deal with My Fraud Alert for Me?
Yes. You can designate someone to be something called a personal representative, who can manage a fraud alert in your stead. This is possible via a Power of Attorney or a court-appointed document. A personal representative is able to add fraud alerts, remove them, or update contact information on your behalf.
How is a Fraud Alert Different from a Security Freeze?
While a fraud alert is the aforementioned red flag, a security freeze is a total stop. A fraud alert requires creditors and lenders to ask for more proof that you are who you say you are, but a security freeze completely prohibits new creditors for looking at your credit history.
No personal identification number (PIN) is necessary to delete the fraud alert; with a security freeze, you will have been given (or you will have created) a PIN with your original freeze request, and that PIN will be necessary for the unfreezing of your security report.
If you fear your identity or financial records may be stolen, you might want to consider a fraud alert. This is not as complete a stoppage as a security freeze, but it is still a red alert warning potential creditors about your possible situation. To place a fraud alert, simply contact one of the three national credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax). All one-year fraud alerts are free, and you can request a free credit report as well.
A fraud alert lasts for a year, with two variations: an extended fraud alert (which lasts for seven years), and a fraud alert for active military (which lasts for a full year and can be renewed to match your deployment). With all three fraud alerts, you can designate someone to be a personal representative, who can manage the fraud alert for you.
If you wish to prematurely end a fraud alert or change your contact information, you can do so by mail or by phone, and depending on which one you choose, you will have to either answer questions or provide proof of address and identification.
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