When you’ve been a victim of identity theft, it’s tough to know what to do first. One of the phrases you may have heard when it comes to identity theft is a fraud alert. But do you know what fraud alerts do, what types are available or how fraud alerts work?
A fraud alert is a notice that is placed on your credit report that alerts credit card companies and others who may extend you credit that you may have been a victim of fraud, including identity theft. Think of it as a “red flag” to potential lenders and creditors.
Fraud alerts are free. To place a fraud alert on your Equifax credit report, you can create a myEquifaxTM account online; call Equifax at (800) 525-6285; or download this form to request a fraud alert by mail.
Here are seven things you might not know about fraud alerts.
- A fraud alert encourages third parties to take extra steps to verify your identity before extending credit. What exactly does this mean? With an initial one-year fraud alert, companies are encouraged to take reasonable steps to confirm you are who you say you are, such as contacting you at a phone number you provide, before completing a request for credit. This can make it more difficult for an identity thief or fraudster to open new accounts or modify existing accounts in your name. However, it’s important to note a fraud alert would not prevent an identity thief from attempting to use an existing account – a credit card, for example.
- There is a seven-year fraud alert available to you. These fraud alerts are also known as extended fraud alerts. An extended fraud alert on your credit reports lasts for seven years. In order to place an extended fraud alert, a police report or a Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Report is required. To place an extended fraud alert, you can download this form to request by mail.
- For service members, there is an active duty military alert. An active duty alert is an option specifically available for U.S. service men and women. Like an initial one-year fraud alert, an active duty alert encourages companies to take extra steps to verify your identity, such as contacting you by phone, before opening new accounts in your name or modifying existing ones. This type of fraud alert also lasts for one year. Service men and women can have a personal representative with a Power of Attorney add an active duty alert on their behalf if they are already deployed.
- You can update or remove a fraud alert by phone or mail. Removing or updating contact information on a fraud alert—one-year, seven-year, or active duty military alert—can be done by phone or mail at any of the three nationwide credit bureaus. At Equifax, if you wish to update your information over the phone, you will need to answer questions that are designed to verify your identity. If your identity can’t be verified, we will provide you with more information about the documents you’ll need to mail to us in order for us to make sure we validate your identity. If you choose to update your information by mail, you'll need to send a request in writing along with documents to verify your identity. Learn more about which documents are accepted.
- You only need to contact one of the nationwide credit bureaus in order to have an initial one-year fraud alert, active duty alert or extended fraud alert placed on all three of your credit reports. Fraud alerts are designed so that you only have to contact one of the three nationwide credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian or TransUnion -- online, by phone, or by mail to request an initial one-year fraud alert, active duty alert or extended fraud alert on your credit report. The credit bureau you contact must pass the request on to the other two bureaus.
- Someone else is able to manage your fraud alert on your behalf.
A “personal representative” can be designated to manage a fraud alert on your behalf with a Power of Attorney or court appointed document. The personal representative can add fraud alerts, delete them or update contact information.
- There are many additional resources that offer great information about fraud alerts and fraud-related topics. In addition to the three major credit bureaus, you may find more information about fraud alerts on the Equifax website, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and/or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) websites. Your state Attorney General’s website may also offer educational material on fraud-related topics, including types of fraud and what to do if you’re a victim of fraud.