A credit bureau fraud alert is a service that the major credit report companies offer to help you protect your credit against identity theft. When you have an alert in place, if someone tries to open up a credit account in your name, the application is delayed until the information is verified with you.
Usually this is done by a phone call to prove that you are the one who initiated the loan process. There may be additional steps to verify that you did indeed place the fraud alert on your account, such as stating the date the alert was placed.
It's important to remember that if you will be applying for a loan in the near future, a fraud alert will slow things down quite a bit. Instead of using a fraud alert, you may want to consider credit monitoring for fraud until after the loan is processed.
Before we discuss how to set up a credit bureau fraud alert, you first need to understand that there are two types of fraud alerts: an initial alert and an extended alert.
An initial alert stays on your credit report for at least 90 days and some may extend up to a year. You can ask that a fraud alert be placed on your credit report if you suspect you have been, or are about to be, a victim of identity theft. This is an appropriate step to take if your wallet has been stolen or lost, or if you've been a victim of a "phishing" scam.
When you place an initial credit bureau fraud alert on your credit report, you're entitled to one free credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies.
An extended fraud alert or security freeze is a longer term solution if you've been a victim of identity theft, and will stay on your credit report for seven years. To do this, you will need to provide the credit bureaus with an "identity theft report."
When you place an extended alert on your credit report, you're entitled to two free credit reports within twelve months from each of the three main credit bureaus. In addition, the credit bureaus will remove your name from marketing lists for pre-screened credit offers for five years unless you ask them to put your name back on the list before then.
To place a credit bureau fraud alert on your credit report, you will need to contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies. You only need to contact one of the three credit bureaus to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two bureaus, which will then place an alert on their versions of your report, too. If you do not receive a confirmation from one of the other credit bureaus, you should contact that company directly to place a fraud alert.
Below is the contact information for each of the three credit bureaus:
Equifax Fraud Division
P.O. Box 740250, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
* You can initiate a 90 day fraud alert with Equifax through their online fraud alert system. Once your alert is on file with Equifax, they will transmit the information to the other two credit bureaus to save having to contact Experian and TransUnion directly. They also offer the option to place a security freeze on your account, which is quite a bit more restrictive. You can read more about setting up an Equifax security freeze here.
Experian Fraud Division
P.O. Box 1017, Allen, TX 75013
* Here is the link for Experian's main credit fraud section
Once initiated, a fraud alert should be placed on your credit file at all three major credit bureaus within 24 hours. When you place a fraud alert on your credit file, you're entitled to request free copies of your credit reports. If you find inaccurate or fraudulent information, get it removed. See fixing a credit report mistake to learn how. You may also request that only the last four digits of your Social Security number will appear on your credit reports.
Once your fraud alert is implemented, if someone tries to open up a credit account in your name, the application will be delayed until the information is verified with you. A credit bureau fraud alert will remain in place for at least 90 days (some last up to a year). When this time runs out, you'll need to reactivate the alert by contacting the credit bureaus.
To remove a credit bureau fraud alert from your account, you will need to submit your request in writing to the credit bureaus, along with copies of identifying documents. This is to insure that an identity thief is not trying to access your credit report.
For more information on ways to prevent identity theft, read the following articles: