A fraud alert is something that the major credit bureaus attach to your credit report. When you, or someone else, tries to open up a credit account by getting a new credit card, car loan, cell phone, etc., the lender should contact you by phone to verify that you really want to open a new account. If you aren’t reachable by phone, the credit account shouldn’t be opened.
When a business sees the alert on your credit report, it must verify your identity before issuing you credit. As part of this verification process, the business may try to contact you directly. This may cause some delays if you’re trying to obtain credit. To compensate for possible delays, you may wish to include a cell phone number, where you can be reached easily, in your alert. Remember to keep current all contact information in your alert.
You have the right to ask that nationwide consumer credit reporting companies place “fraud alerts” in your file to let potential creditors and others know that you may be a victim of identity theft. A fraud alert can make it more difficult for someone to get credit in your name because it tells creditors to follow certain procedures to protect you. Be aware that it also may delay your ability to obtain credit. You may place a fraud alert in your file by sending your request to just one (1) of the three (3) nationwide consumer credit reporting companies. As soon as that agency processes your fraud alert, it will notify the other two (2), which then also must place fraud alerts in your file.
Awareness is an effective weapon against many forms identity theft. Be aware of how information is stolen and what you can do to protect yours, monitor your personal information to uncover any problems quickly, and know what to do when you suspect your identity has been stolen.
What does a fraud alert not do?
While a fraud alert can help keep an identity thief from opening new accounts in your name, it’s not a solution to all types of identity theft. It will not protect you from an identity thief using your existing credit cards or other accounts. It also will not protect you from an identity thief opening new accounts in your name that do not require a credit check – such as a telephone, wireless, or bank account. And, if there’s identity theft already going on when you place the fraud alert, the fraud alert alone won’t stop it. A fraud alert, however, can be extremely useful in stopping identity theft that involves opening a new line of credit.
Armed with the knowledge of how to protect yourself and take action, you can make identity thieves’ jobs much more difficult. You can also help fight identity theft by educating your friends, family, and members of your community. The FTC has prepared a collection of easy-to-use materials to enable anyone regardless of existing knowledge about identity theft to inform others about this serious crime.