I returned from two weeks away from my house to find it had been burglarized. Among the missing items are some credit cards, and I have notified the card issuers. However, my Social Security number appears on an ID (with no other identifying information but my name and address) that appears to have been taken. What steps should I take to protect my credit? A neighbor advised me to ask you to request an alert.
Your neighbor gave you good advice. Your personal information was compromised, so it's a good idea to contact the credit reporting agencies to request an initial security alert be added to your file. You may also hear this referred to as a "fraud alert."
A security alert or fraud alert tells lenders that your identifying information might have been compromised and asks them to take extra precautions before approving any requests for new credit. An initial alert remains on your credit report for one year. When you contact any one of the three national credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax or TransUnion—your request is automatically shared with the other two credit reporting companies so that they can add an alert to their files as well.
After adding the initial alert, it's a good idea to review all three of your reports for signs of fraud and continue to monitor activity on all three reports in order to determine if there is any fraudulent activity going forward. You can request a free copy of your report from each credit bureau in order to check for suspicious activity. You can also sign up for Experian's free credit monitoring service.
What If I See Fraud on My Credit Report?
If there is information on your credit report that is related to fraud or identity theft, contact Experian to dispute it. You can request a dispute quickly and easily by using our online Dispute Center, or by calling the phone number listed on your credit report and speaking with a fraud representative.
If you choose to dispute the information online, you can also upload any documentation you have to support the dispute. When you submit your dispute, be sure to indicate that you are a victim of fraud or identity theft and be specific about the items you are disputing. Experian will contact the creditor to notify them of your dispute and ask them to verify the information.
You should also consider filing a police report or identity theft report. You can then submit a copy of that document to Experian and request that an extended fraud alert be added to your credit report, which will remain for seven years. You may also add up to two telephone numbers (day and evening, for example) where lenders may contact you if your identification is used to apply for credit.
Should I Freeze My Credit Report?
A credit freeze, like a fraud alert, is a free tool available to help victims of identity theft protect themselves and their credit. But it is an extreme step, and there are some drawbacks.
If you have a freeze on your credit report, you will need to remember to lift, or "thaw," the freeze prior to applying for credit. You'll also need to place and remove freezes separately at each of the three national credit reporting companies.
While a security freeze might be necessary in some instances, there are times when a fraud alert may be the wiser course of action. A fraud alert may cause a slight delay while your identity is verified, but once that's done, an alert will not restrict the lender from viewing your credit report and granting credit. With a credit freeze, you will have to lift the freeze with the credit bureau in order for the lender to check your credit, then reapply the freeze once the loan application process is finished.
If you are planning to apply for credit in the near future, it may be better to not freeze your credit file, or to postpone freezing it until you no longer need access to the credit marketplace.
Thanks for asking.
Jennifer White, Consumer Education Specialist