credit

2 ways to stop identity theft

While this option offers more protection, Frank admits a freeze can be a hassle for people who plan to legitimately apply for credit, or who need an insurance company, landlord or potential employer to check their credit history.

"A freeze may work best for someone who's not planning on applying for new credit in the near future, she says.

3. Time length

Fraud alerts typically last for 90 days and can be renewed for additional 90-day periods.

"Existing victims of identity theft can have the alert extended to seven years," Frank says.

Meanwhile, a security freeze lasts indefinitely.

4. Ability to be reversed

Permanently "thawing" a security freeze can be an involved process, Burke says. Consumers must contact each of the three bureaus to request an end to the freeze. They must also pay a fee of about $10 and provide a personal identification number, or PIN, that they received when they first initiated the freeze.

"If you forget your PIN, the freeze reversal could be delayed for several days," Burke says.

The process for ending a fraud alert is easier, he says.

"Fraud alerts can be ended by contacting each of the three major credit reporting agencies, and by requesting that they be removed," Burke says.

Consumers can also choose to wait until the alert expires.

5. Effect on the consumer's credit score

Neither a fraud alert nor a credit freeze alone will affect a consumer's credit rating, Frank says.

Incidentally, although new lenders can't access credit files when a security freeze is in place, existing creditors can still view those records and continue to see how well consumers are managing their accounts, she says.

Another option

Some experts say that for the most identity theft protection, consumers should look beyond fraud alerts and credit freezes.

Monitoring plans are offered by independent companies, financial companies and even credit bureaus themselves. Costs vary, but are typically around $10 per month.

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