advantages of socializing and doing business online are significant
and numerous, but since the dawn of the digital age, cyber-convenience
has been accompanied by cybercrime. The situation isn’t likely to
improve soon, so it’s wise to safeguard your passwords, protect your
PINs, and be watchful for signs of identity theft and fraud.
also should be aware of an effective, and free, method to protect your
credit reports against thieves seeking or using credit in your name:
the fraud alert.
A fraud alert is a kind of message added to
credit reports that indicates that fraud may be in the works. A fraud
alert instructs any party that accesses the credit report—such as a
lender who’s received a potentially bogus credit application—that they
need to verify the identity of the person applying for the loan, credit
card, or other benefit. In fact, the Fair Credit Reporting Act
requires any “user” of a credit report containing a fraud alert to
contact the consumer either via phone or some other reasonable method to
confirm that an application is not fraudulent. There are three
different types of fraud alerts that can be added to credit reports:
- Initial fraud alert.
The initial alert is the easiest to add, and it’s a good precaution
even if you only suspect, but are not yet certain, fraud has occurred.
All you have to do is contact any one of the three national credit
reporting companies (CRCs)—Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion—and request
that the alert be added. Whichever CRC you contact must then share the
request with the other two CRCs. So, all you have to do is add the
alert to one of your credit reports and it will end up on all three.
You can add an initial fraud alert here, here, or here. The initial alert will last one year (according to the latest FCRA amendment in 2018),
and you do not have to certify that you’ve been the victim of fraud in order to add this alert.
- Extended fraud alert.
If you know you have been a victim of fraud, then you can add an
extended alert, which will remain on your credit reports for 7 years.
You will be required to certify you’ve been victimized by fraud, by
completing and submitting an identity theft report that includes a copy
of a police report or other report to law enforcement. As with the
initial report, you only have to request this alert from one of the
CRCs, and that CRC will notify the other two. Here’s an example of a form you can use to place an extended fraud alert.
- Active-duty fraud alert. The
active-duty alert is for active military service members. It remains
on your credit reports for one year. It’s very much like the initial
fraud alert, but lasts longer in recognition of the fact that service
members on assignment around the world may need extra time to track
down and document fraudulent activity. And again, all you have to do is
add the alert to one of your credit reports and it will end up on all
You can learn more about adding the fraud alerts to your credit reports here, including the various forms of identification the credit bureaus will accept.