It can happen to anybody, but you never really think it will happen to you.
A few weeks ago, I was on a business trip in Washington D.C. when my luggage was stolen out of the back of a cab. I had to deal with the massive headache of getting new clothes and toiletries, but I also had to worry about possible identity theft and fraud.
My wallet and credit cards were with me in my purse, but I had stuck a bank statement and a credit card bill in my suitcase at the last minute, planning to pay my bills on the road. My bank account information and credit card numbers were now in the hands of whoever stole my luggage. I’m sure the thief loved my three changes of business-casual wear and one-quart plastic baggie with mini bottles of soap and shampoo, but my financial information was no doubt a whole lot more valuable to him.
What Is a Temporary Fraud Alert?
An initial ninety-day fraud alert indicates to anyone requesting your credit file that you suspect you are a victim of fraud. When you or someone else attempts to open a credit account in your name, increase the credit limit on an existing account, or obtain a new card on an existing account, the creditor should take steps to verify that you have authorized the request. If the creditor cannot verify this, the request should not be satisfied.
When you file a fraud alert, you may also request one additional free credit report.
A fraud alert is a helpful tool anytime you feel your credit has been compromised or has the potential to be compromised. You don’t have to wait to be pick pocketed. Set up a temporary fraud alert if you think your accounts have been compromised in any way-for example, if you get a copy of your credit report and see accounts on it that you didn’t open, or if you see charges on your credit card statement that you didn’t make.
When you place a fraud alert, you don’t have to worry about contacting all of the credit reporting agencies and all of your creditors.
Once you place a fraud alert with one credit-reporting agency, the alert is automatically forwarded to the other agencies. This automatic reporting is helpful to you, because you don’t know which credit-reporting agency a creditor is using. It’s the same with fraud: you never know where the perpetrator is applying for credit and which credit-reporting agency is being used.
What Is an Extended Fraud Alert?
The temporary alert can be used by anyone who suspects fraud, but once you’ve established that your identity or your credit has been compromised, you can set up an extended alert to protect yourself.
An extended fraud alert is similar to an initial ninety-day alert, except that it lasts for seven years, and to verify your request a creditor must contact you at the telephone number(s) you provide to Equifax when you request the extended fraud alert. A valid police report showing that you have been a victim of identity theft is required to place an extended fraud alert. You can file a complaint with the FTC and fill out their ID Theft Complaint form to take to the police. Also, you may request two additional free credit file disclosures, and your name is removed from prescreened offers of credit or insurance for five years. Download an extended fraud alert request form.
Extended Alert vs. Automatic Alerts
The extended alert is available only if you are a confirmed victim of identity theft, but what if you want to restrict access to your credit to prevent identity theft? Using a product like Equifax ID Patrol, which includes the Automatic Fraud Alert feature, can help you do this.
Equifax is the only credit reporting agency that offers the Automatic Fraud Alert feature. The feature enables Equifax to place your free initial ninety-day fraud alert on your credit file. Then every ninety days the fraud alert will automatically be renewed for you. This tool can come in handy if you know you won’t have a lot of activity on your credit file and don’t want to worry about identity theft.
Let’s say you know you won’t be applying for a loan or any credit cards in the next year or so. With the Automatic Fraud Alert feature, you can rest assured, as I do, that no one will access your credit file illegally or steal your identity.
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