You may have heard the terms “security freeze” and “fraud alert” in the news recently. While each may play a role in identity theft, they have different meanings and are not appropriate for all situations. For example, resolving the issue of a fraudulent mortgage taken out in your name without your knowledge likely requires a different response than simply taking proactive steps to better protect your identity.
If this happens to you, one of the first things you may want to consider doing is obtaining a copy of your credit report and review it for other evidence of inaccurate information or fraudulent activity, such as credit cards or loans taken out in your name without your consent. If you find this information on your credit report, it’s important to contact your local law enforcement to fill out a police report.
Here are some of the main differences between a security freeze and a fraud alert:
A security freeze allows you to restrict access to your credit report, making it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. To place a security freeze on your credit report, you will need to contact each credit reporting agency (CRA) individually. You may place or a remove a security freeze at Equifax by going online or by calling 1-800-298-0045. You’ll also want to keep your police report handy.
A security freeze will stay on your credit report until you decide to remove it, meaning that neither you nor a lender—nor a criminal—can open new accounts until it is lifted. You may have to pay a fee to have it removed or replaced, and a list of state-by-state requirements for placing security freezes is available here.
It’s important to note that a security freeze does not block access to your existing accounts, so a determined identity thief who may be abusing your active lines of credit could potentially continue his or her actions.
While a security freeze “locks down” your credit, a fraud alert will not stop lenders from granting credit in your name, but it does tell them to take extra steps to confirm your identity before doing so.
A fraud alert comes in two forms: an initial fraud alert and an extended fraud alert.
- An initial fraud alert lasts for 90 days, making it a good tool if you are worried that you may be at risk for identity theft but are not currently being victimized.
- An extended fraud alert remains on your credit for seven years and requires lenders to contact you before giving credit or lending in your name. This is a good tool for those who are being victimized and are working to undo the damage but who may also need access to their credit. It requires a police report to put in place, so be sure you have one before requesting this action.
A third option for members of the armed forces is an active duty alert, which is a precautionary measure that protects the credit reports of servicemembers for one year. It is often used in conjunction with overseas tours of duty.
Depending on the seriousness of your risk of identity theft, you may be able to use these tools to help better protect yourself. Keep in mind the applicable timelines, such as when your fraud alerts will become inactive, so that you can revisit your decision as needed.
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.