I recently learned that my personally identifying information (including my social security number) may have been compromised. While I’m hopeful that nothing bad will come of this, you can never be too careful when it comes to identity theft. Thus, I decided to place a fraud alert on my credit report (and on my wife’s, just for good measure).
Why place a fraud alert?
The benefits of placing a fraud alert are that potential creditors should contact you at a phone number of your choice prior to approving credit applications, and also that you get a free credit report from each of the three bureaus such that you can check for fraudulent activity. Sure, you can always get a free credit report with no strings attached, but that’s limited to once per year. This gives you a second chance of checking to be sure everything is alright.
The only real downside is that some credit issuers have a fully automated approval process, and will be unable to process your application if a fraud alert is in place. This is a slight hiccup, but well worth the inconvenience in my book if it prevents you from becoming a victim of fraud. Also keep in mind that you can remove the alert in the future if you decide you no longer need it.
How do I place the alert?
Actually placing the alert is surprisingly easy. You simply need to contact one of the three credit bureaus to request the alert, and they will automatically pass the information to the other two. I ended up going through Equifax, who allows you to place the alert over the phone or via the internet.
Since I was out and about when I did this, I ended up calling them, and the process couldn’t have been easier. I simply dialed 1-888-766-0008, punched in some information (including my SSN and a portion of our street address), and confirmed the request. Within a few days I received a letter from all three bureaus confirming that the fraud alert was in place.
It’s worth noting here that Experian subjects you to a pitch for their identity protection services when you call to request a fraud alert, so I would suggest avoiding them. I’m not sure about TransUnion, but since the process was so easy with Equifax, and since they autoatically notify the others, I would suggest going with them.
The initial fraud alert is good for 90 days, but the letter that you receive will include instructions for requesting an extended alert, which stays in place for seven years Similarly, the letter will include instructions for requesting your free credit report. Also note that requesting an extended alert entitles you to an additional free copy of your credit report (for a total of two) in the twelve months following your initial request.