You're smart. You've already taken a first crucial step in protecting the power of your credit by subscribing to Equifax Credit Watch™. But don't forget – knowledge is power. By learning the answers to some of the more frequently asked questions regarding identity theft and fraud alerts, you can take an extra step in protecting your financial assets.

What is identity theft?

As defined by the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information without your permission, such as your name, credit card or Social Security number, to commit fraud or other crimes. One example of this is if someone were to assume your identity, complete with correct Social Security number, current employment information, etc. and takes over your credit and/or bank accounts, open new accounts and loans, secures cell phones and apartments, all in your name.

How can identity thieves get my information?

Some of the ways that thieves can steal your identity include:

How can I prevent identity theft?

Although not 100% preventable, the risk of identity theft can be significantly reduced by taking the following precautions:

What is a fraud alert?

A fraud alert is a consumer statement added to your credit file. This statement alerts creditors that you may be a victim of fraud, including identity theft, as well as requests that they follow certain procedures to protect you in connection with requests for new credit accounts, increasing credit on an existing account, or issuance of a new card on an existing account. There are two types of fraud alerts: an initial fraud alert that lasts for 90 days, and an extended fraud alert that lasts for 7 years.

What are the benefits of a fraud alert?

A fraud alert, when added to your credit file, requires creditors using the file to take reasonable steps to verify your identity, which may include contacting you by phone if you've provided your telephone number, prior to establishing any new credit accounts in your name, issuing a new card on an existing account, or increasing the credit limit on an existing account, if requests for any of these actions are made. The purpose of this is to confirm that the request is not the result of identity theft.

How do I place an initial fraud alert on my credit file?

For your convenience, we can place a fraud alert on your Equifax credit file 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling our auto fraud line at 1-877-478-7625 and following the prompts. Once placed with Equifax, the other two credit major reporting agencies, Experian and Trans Union, will be notified as well.

How do I place an extended fraud alert on my credit file?

You may place an extended 7 year alert by writing to Equifax or one of the other nationwide credit reporting companies and providing an Identity Theft Report as well as a day and evening telephone number. The requirements for an Identity Theft Report are listed on the FTC's website at The extended alert removes your name from pre-screened offers of credit for 5 years

What about the other major credit reporting agencies, do I have to contact them separately?

As of April 1, 2003, you no longer have to contact all three of the major credit reporting agencies to have a fraud alert added to your credit files. By placing a fraud alert with just one of the three agencies, the other two will be notified automatically through a new industry procedure.