Credit Report Fraud Alerts

Has your personal financial information fallen into the wrong hands? If so, you can take steps to reduce at least some of the harm it can cause. You have the legal right to attach a fraud alert to your credit file, which warns credit issuers that your personal data has been – or may have been – illegally accessed. Before issuing a new loan or line of credit, creditors must first verify your identity and gain your approval.

The benefits
Think of a credit report fraud alert as a roadblock. Because the creditor has to call you at a phone number that you provide, it can hinder the thief’s ability to open an account in your name. When you file the alert, you may also receive a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies.

Another benefit to the fraud alert is that once it is in effect, you won’t be receiving credit pre-approval letters for a long time. Once filed, your name will be removed from credit marketing lists for two years (of course this can also be a disadvantage if you do want all the credit offers).

The drawbacks
The power of a fraud alert is limited to new accounts only – it is ineffective if the thief uses your existing lines of credit. Fraud alerts may also delay your own credit and loan applications, since the creditor has to jump through hoops to ensure you are whom you say you are. You could lose out on those special time-sensitive “one-day only” deals (which do seem to come up again anyway!).

How to add the alert
As soon as you know or even suspect that your personal information has been in the wrong hands, call the credit bureaus’ fraud departments to activate the process:

  • TransUnion
    Fraud Victim Assistance Department
    Phone: (800) 680.7289
    P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634-6790
  • Equifax
    Consumer Fraud Division
    Phone: (800) 525.6285 or: (404) 885.8000
    P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
  • Experian
    Experian's National Consumer Assistance
    Phone: (888) 397.3742
    P.O. Box 2104
    Allen, TX 75013

You will have to provide them with all of your identifying information as well as a phone number where you can be reached. If you have a cell phone, you may want to use that number, since it will cut down on the creditor having to leave you a message that you then have to return.

You do not need to call each of the bureaus to place separate alerts. Data is shared, so your request will be automatically extended to the other bureaus.

Time frames
Once placed on the file, the alert takes effect within 24 hours. It is attached to your credit report for a specific number of months – three for Experian, six for Equifax, and twelve for TransUnion. If the thief has already used your information, you can apply for a seven-year victim statement (for all the bureaus).

If you need or want the alert removed early, you must request it in writing. Be sure to include your name, Social Security number, current and previous addresses, birth date, and telephone number. Send your letter to the fraud department of each credit bureau via certified mail, return receipt requested.

Credit freezes – the extra step
In addition to a fraud alert, you may also be able to freeze your credit file. A credit freeze (not available in all states) is intended to help in the more extreme cases of fraud. By providing a special personal identification number (PIN) to the credit bureaus, you can have your file unfrozen, get the credit you apply for, and then re-freeze the file. Since you are the only one who knows your PIN, only you can apply for credit and other loans in your name. If you can prove you are a victim of identity theft, the freezes are usually free – otherwise there is a fee to both place it and each time you unfreeze your file.

The damage that identity thieves can cause by opening fraudulent accounts in your name can be severe, so take steps to keep your personal and financial information private. Be sure to review each of your credit reports at least annually (from the centralized service set up by the bureaus (www.annualcreditreport.com/ (877) 322.8228) and look for evidence of any wrongdoing. If you do notice something amiss, take immediate and strong action!

Content provided by our trusted partner  HawaiiUSA FCU & Balance, your financial literacy partners
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