What Should You Do When Your Identity Is Stolen: Credit Freeze or Fraud Alert?

Pensive man at laptop in home office

Your information has been captured and used by another: that's identity theft. You might learn about the activity in different ways - whether you learned from a creditor who contacted you to question activity, or you spotted something unusual yourself on your credit report. Once you know, what should you do next?

When Should I Think About Adding a Fraud Alert?

  • You believe you are or have been a victim of fraud
  • You notice unexplained transactions or withdrawals
  • A check has bounced or your credit card was declined
  • You receive notification from a company that your account security has been breached or violated
  • You receive notification from the IRS including information that you don't recognize

Remember, a fraud alert is a federal right for victims of identity theft, and it allows creditors to get your report information as long as they take steps to verify your identity. Last of all, there's no cost to you to activate one.

To place an initial fraud alert, contact one of the three credit bureaus and let them know you believe you're a victim of identity theft. Confirm that the bureau you speak to will share the alert with the other two (it's the law that they do), and know that the initial alert will be active for 90 days, and you can renew it.

How to Place an Extended Fraud Alert

For an extended fraud alert, you'll need to file an identity theft report with law enforcement and contact each of the three credit bureaus with your request. You'll likely need to fill out a request form and include a copy of the identity theft report you filed with law enforcement. Extended fraud alerts last for seven years, and companies also have to remove you from their marketing lists for prescreened credit offers for five years unless you request otherwise.

  • File a report with law enforcement
  • Contact each credit bureau with your request

How to Create an Identity Theft Report

Need to create an identity theft report? Submit a report about the theft to the Federal Trade Commission's website.

When Should I Think About Freezing My Credit?

You should consider a credit freeze (also known as a security freeze) if:

  • You're the victim of ongoing or persistent identity theft violations
  • You either start to receive bills for items you haven't purchased, or bills you regularly receive stop arriving
  • Unfamiliar information or unauthorized inquiries start appearing on your credit report
  • You've received information that indicates a fraudulent activity has taken place in your name at a bank, creditor, or other financial institution
  • You've received a notification letter from a company letting you know of a data breach that may have impacted your information, and you find evidence of fraud in your credit report

Remember, a credit freeze makes it more difficult for an identity thief to open accounts in your name and also prevents new lenders from accessing your information unless you lift it. A fee may be charged to add or remove a freeze if you aren't a fraud victim, but you must request to lift the freeze before the next time you apply for credit (whether you choose to lift it temporarily or permanently).

How to Place a Credit Freeze

If you're ready to activate a credit freeze, get in touch with each of the three credit bureaus and let them know that you're a victim of identity theft, and you're ready to activate a credit freeze. You might think that an automatic credit freeze is something that sounds like a good idea at first thought, too—if it helps protect people from fraud, that's a good thing, right?

But that would also mean that you couldn't look at your own credit unless you un-froze it. And it usually takes a maximum of around 72 hours for that action to happen, based on differing state laws that govern the procedures on how the bureaus must freeze and un-freeze their credit. So finding the perfect new car for you would mean you couldn't just walk in and take it home that day—it would require processing time that might cause you to lose out on your best deal.

  • Contact the credit bureaus
  • Let them know you're a victim of identity theft and request the freeze


If you don't want to (or feel that you need a) freeze on your credit report right now, keeping a close eye on your credit information should always be a part of your response plan. Unusual score activity, a new or different address or other personal information can be an indicator that fraud activity is afoot. If you're a member of Experian CreditWorks, you can activate Experian CreditLock to lock and unlock your Experian credit report information on demand and on-the-go. Discover more about how protecting your information with Experian CreditLock can help keep your information secure from prying eyes but available to you when you need to review it or share access with another.

Review our checklist below to see what can help get things back to normal while helping to protect your information in the meantime.