Initiating a free fraud alert with the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – is a simple matter. You only need to contact one of these agencies, and all three will place an alert on your credit reports. The alert informs prospective users of a credit report that you may be the victim of fraud, including identity theft.
But these free alerts are limited to 90 days. What then? Is there a way to put a longer fraud alert in place at no cost? Here is information about various options for consumers.
Free Credit Reports
Whether or not you request a fraud alert, you can still request a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the credit bureaus by calling the Annual Credit Report Request Service at 877-322-8228.
Free Fraud Alerts
Credit reporting agencies are defined by federal law as agencies that compile and maintain files on consumers for the purpose of furnishing consumer reports to third parties bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing or credit capacity. These agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – are required under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act to provide initial 90-day fraud alerts free of charge at the request of consumers.
According to Jay Foley of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center, once you have placed a fraud alert, you can request a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus.
You should review the report closely for any suspicious activity. Look especially for any accounts you didn’t open and charges you didn’t make.
Extending a Fraud Alert
According to David Rubinger, vice president of communications at Equifax, a person can extend a free 90-day fraud alert on his or her credit information by reinstating the alert when it expires. There is no limit to the number of times a free alert can be placed on your account, but the responsibility for reinstating the alert rests with you.
In certain circumstances, free alerts extending as long as seven years are available, but in order to receive such an extension, you must demonstrate that a crime has been committed against you. It is not sufficient to simply be on the list of people whose information has been compromised.
If suspicious activity occurs on your account while a fraud alert is in place, the credit reporting agency that has detected the activity will alert you. You can then take this notification to any law enforcement agency – including the United States Postal Inspection Service – and file a crime report.
Please note: According to UCLA’s police department, law enforcement agencies will not file crime reports for individuals based on the general announcement that there was illegal hacking into the university’s computer database, even if that person has been notified that he or she is in that database. There must be proof that some attempt – now or in the past – has been made to steal one’s identity, successful or not.
However, if upon examining your credit report you don’t recognize a particular account or inquiry, you may take this information to the UCPD or another law enforcement agency and get a criminal report stating that you are potentially a victim of identity theft. Jay Foley of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center says that consumers who encounter resistance from law enforcement agencies when attempting to file such reports may contact his organization for assistance at http://www.idtheftcenter.org.
The report filed with the law enforcement agency can then be forwarded to the credit reporting agencies, which will put the longer fraud alert in place. Even with the criminal report, all requests for extended fraud alerts must be made in writing. More information about how to make these requests is available at http://www.idtheftcenter.org.
If you live in California, you have the right to put a “security freeze” on your credit file. A security freeze means that your file cannot be shared with potential creditors. A security freeze can help prevent identity theft. Most businesses will not open credit accounts without first checking a consumer’s credit history. If your credit files are frozen, even someone who has your name and Social Security number probably would not be able to get credit in your name.
A security freeze is free to victims who have a police report of identity theft. If you are not an identity theft victim, it will cost you $10 to place a freeze with each of the three credit bureaus. Costs may vary outside California. More information on security freezes is available from the California Department of Consumer Affairs at http://www.privacy.ca.gov/sheets/cis10securityfreeze.htm.
Fee-based Monitoring by Credit Reporting Agencies
Each of the three agencies offers credit monitoring for a fee, ranging from about $5 a month to $35 or more. It is up to you to decide whether the services offered are worth the fee. Detailed consumer information is posted on the Identity Theft Resource Center site at http://www.idtheftcenter.org.