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Protect yourself with a fraud alert on your credit report

Woman going through her mail | Blend Images/Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

Discovering a charge on your credit card that you haven't authorized is always a reason for distress. In many cases, this means that you have been, or are about to become, the victim of fraud. Placing a fraud alert on your credit report allows you to protect against fraudsters opening accounts or credit cards in your name. When a fraud alert is in place, creditors will contact you to confirm your identity before issuing new credit.

What is a fraud alert?

Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, people in the United States have the right to place fraud alerts on their credit reports if they think they have been victims of identity theft. You can start by placing a 90-day initial alert and decide whether to renew before the end of this period.

How does a fraud alert protect you?

A fraud alert is not a bullet-proof guarantee that no credit will be issued in your name. The alert is triggered by creditors who actually review your credit report before giving an answer to a credit application, but this is not always the case. For some kinds of accounts, including bank accounts, utilities and internet services, a review of the credit report is not usually necessary. This is why monitoring your credit report for changes is still necessary even after you have a fraud alert placed.

How do you add an initial fraud alert to your credit report?

Start by contacting one of the 3 main credit reporting agencies in the United States: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can decide to add a fraud alert with just one credit agency, but it is generally advisable to file for an alert with all three of them. You can place the alert by calling a dedicated number or by visiting the Alerts page on the website of the credit agency of your choosing.

In the event you decide to remove a fraud alert, you need to send a written request and include your personal details along with copies of your driver's license and utility bills to confirm your current address.

How do you add an extended alert to your credit report?

A fraud alert for a period of 7 years can be placed on your credit report if you have been a target of identity theft. To place it, you need to submit all the information required for an initial fraud alert, along with a copy of a police report that confirms that you have been a victim of identity theft.

Placing an extended fraud alert on your credit report means that you will not be considered for any pre-approved credit offers for a period of 5 years, and all creditors will contact you via telephone before approving you for credit.

FREE CREDIT REPORT: Suspect you've become a victim of identity theft? Sign up at myBankrate.com to get your free credit report right now!

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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