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Your credit reports are full of sensitive, personal information — information which could be quite harmful if it fell into the hands of the wrong people. In a world where over 1.6 billion records were exposed through data breaches last year alone, being proactive about your credit privacy is not only smart, it’s downright essential.
Although it’s impossible to keep your data 100% safe from data breaches and would-be thieves, it never hurts to add an extra layer of protection to your credit reports. A fraud alert offers you a free and easy way to accomplish that goal.
Fraud alerts are a free right given to you by federal law (the Fair Credit Reporting Act or FCRA). When you place a fraud alert on your three credit reports (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), you make it more difficult for identity thieves to open fraudulent accounts in your name.
Fraud alerts let lenders who access your credit reports know that they need to exercise caution when issuing new credit in your name. With fraud alerts in place, lenders must confirm your identity before approving new credit which is attached to your Social Security number.
If a thief were to apply for credit using your information, he would hopefully be stopped whenever the lender reaches out to you (often on the phone number you provide) to verify that the application is legitimate and authorized.
There are three different types of fraud alerts you can place on your credit reports: initial fraud alerts, extended fraud alerts, and active duty fraud alerts.
This is the simplest type of fraud alert to place on your credit reports. Thanks to new federal law, an initial fraud alert may be placed on your credit reports for one year (formerly 90 days).
Are you already a victim of fraud or identity theft? You may want to place an extended alert on your credit reports which will last for seven years. To do so, you’ll need to send proof to one of the three credit reporting agencies to show that you’ve already been a victim of identity theft. (Proof may be a police report or an identity theft report from IdentityTheft.gov.)
Active duty military members can add an alert to their credit reports which will require lenders to take extra steps before opening new credit in their names. These alerts also last for one year, but can be renewed to match the length of deployment. (Note: Unlike other fraud alerts, active duty alerts will remove your name from prescreened credit card offers for two years as well.)
Placing a fraud alert on your three credit reports is simple and free.
Fraud alerts are referred to as one-call alerts in the credit world. Even though the three major credit bureaus are entirely separate credit reporting companies, you only need to request a fraud alert from one of them (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) to get the job done. Once you contact any one of the credit bureaus to request a fraud alert, it’s legally required to contact the other two on your behalf.
Initial alerts and active duty alerts can be placed easily online. But to place an extended fraud alert you’ll need to fill out a form, print it, and mail it to a credit bureau. Since each type of alert mentioned above lasts for a specified period of time, you should mark your calendar to remind you when the alert expires.
You can add a fraud alert to your three credit reports through any of the three methods below.
Fraud alerts and credit freezes (also known as security freezes) are both tools you can use to proactively prevent true name fraud (aka fraudulent accounts opened without your consent). However, they don’t work exactly the same. Here is a look at some of the differences and similarities between fraud alerts and credit freezes.
The bottom line is that both fraud alerts and credit freezes can be effective ways to protect you from becoming a victim of fraud. Credit monitoring for unauthorized activity can add a reactive type of protection as well (think defense instead of offense).
Credit locks are another type of credit protection, similar to credit freezes in many ways. Learn more about credit locks and credit freezes here.
Consider starting with a simple fraud alert and ramping up your protection from there. Remember, there’s no such thing as keeping your credit reports too safe from bad guys.
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