You don’t have to be a victim of fraud or identity theft to place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit report. Either tool could be useful if you suspect fraud might have happened. Or you could request a credit freeze simply because you don’t plan to use new credit for a while and want to protect against new accounts being opened in your name. The following information explores the difference between these safeguards and how to request them.
Fraud alert. If you place a fraud alert on your report, a business may access your report but must verify your identity before issuing new credit. A fraud alert stays on your report for one year. It entitles you to one free copy of your credit report from the bureau you contact.
Anyone can place a fraud alert, even if you’re only concerned about identity theft because of a theft or data breach but haven’t yet become a victim. To place a free fraud alert, contact one of the three major credit bureaus. That bureau will notify the other two about your alert.
Equifax – 800-685-1111, Equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services
Experian – 888-397-3742, Experian.com/help
TransUnion – 888-909-8872, TransUnion.com/credit-help
Extended fraud alert. If you are a victim of identity theft and you have a police report, you can request an extended fraud alert. The extended alert lasts seven years. It entitles you to two free credit reports within 12 months from each of the three bureaus.
Credit freeze. Another option is to place a credit freeze on your credit report. A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, restricts access to your credit report. To place the freeze, contact each of the three bureaus and provide the requested information. Each bureau will provide a PIN or password that you will need to lift the freeze in the future. It is free to freeze and unfreeze. If you need to apply for new credit in the future, you will need to temporarily lift the freeze then place it again when you are done accessing your credit.
Note that all three of these measures only prevent new accounts from being opened in your name. It is a good idea to check your credit reports and account statements regularly to watch for fraud on your existing accounts.
If you suspect identity theft, visit identitytheft.gov, the FTC’s resource for victims. The website guides you through three steps to getting a recovery plan. You can get additional identity theft information from the Kentucky Attorney General at https://ag.ky.gov/Priorities/Protecting-Kentuckians/Consumers/Pages/Identity-Theft.aspx. Also, you can report it to the Kentucky Identity Theft Hotline at 800-804-7556.
More information on family financial education topics is available by contacting the Laurel County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.
Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expressions, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.