All about credit fraud alerts

Learn what they are and how to set one.

Credit fraud isn’t something you ever want to deal with, but unfortunately, some people will fall victim to this crime. Whether it’s a lost or stolen credit card or a stolen identity, knowing which steps you can take to help straighten out the problem can make all the difference. 

Here’s a quick checklist that can help.

Act quickly and contact your credit card company

First things first: If your card has a lock feature, immediately lock your card if you believe it has been lost or stolen or if you notice suspicious activity. Then contact your credit card company to inform it of your situation. You can identify which charges appear to be suspicious or unauthorized and possibly fraudulent, and they’ll take the appropriate steps to investigate the situation.

Consider credit fraud alerts and security freezes

If you’ve been the victim of fraud and are concerned about the security of your accounts, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you a few options to help protect yourself. 

Consider placing a security freeze or a fraud alert on your credit report. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says freezes and alerts make it more difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in your name. 

You can start the process by contacting one of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®. Here’s how security freezes and fraud alerts work:

Security freezes

Also called a credit freeze, a security freeze prohibits credit reporting agencies from releasing information in your credit report without your approval. A security freeze is intended to prevent things like credit applications or loans from being approved in your name without your consent.

Be aware that credit freezes must be reported individually to each agency. And they don’t apply to existing accounts. 

So if you already have an account with a company, that company can still access your information if it’s related to an account review or collection process. According to the FCRA, companies can check to do things like “account maintenance, monitoring, credit line increases, and account upgrades and enhancements.”

Fraud alerts

There are two primary fraud alerts available thanks to the FCRA. Initial fraud alerts are placed on your credit file for one year. Initial alerts require businesses that view your credit to verify your identity before extending any new credit in your name. There’s also an extended fraud alert available to victims of identity theft. Extended alerts last for seven years.

Unlike security freezes, for a fraud alert, you need to contact only one credit reporting agency. Whichever you choose is required to contact the others to let them know you’ve placed an alert.

Document everything

Keep records of the calls you make and the alerts you place. For added protection, it is a good idea to file a police report if you’re a victim of fraud, and you may want to file a complaint with the FTC.

Removing a credit fraud alert

When the time comes to remove your credit fraud alert or security freeze, you can either wait until it expires or you can submit a request to get it removed. 

Contact the agency you set your initial alert with to find out which steps you need to take in order to remove your credit fraud alert before it expires. In the case of security freezes, you’ll have to contact all three agencies.

Keep in mind it may take some time for your request to be acted upon.

Credit fraud doesn’t have to feel like an uphill battle. By arming yourself with the right information, you’ll know how to respond to suspected fraud and how to protect yourself against fraud in the future.

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