Contact one of the three major credit reporting bureaus and request that a fraud alert be placed on all your credit accounts. (The initial bureau you notify is required to contact the other two, which should then place alerts in their systems.) This signals creditors that you've been victimized by fraud. In theory, it should also block any new accounts from being opened in your name unless someone contacts you first and obtains your express consent.
There are two types of fraud alerts:
An Initial Alert
This alert lasts about 90 days. It is placed by a credit reporting bureau if you suspect that you have been—or simply are about to be—a victim of identity theft. If your wallet has been stolen or you've been hoodwinked by a phishing scam, for instance, you should instruct at least one of the three major credit reporting bureaus to place an initial alert on all your accounts. Taking this action entitles you to one free credit report from each of the Big Three.
An Extended Alert
This alert stays on your credit report for seven years. It should be placed if you know you've been victimized. To have an extended alert placed on your accounts, you will need to provide an identity theft report (generated by your local police department) to at least one consumer reporting company. Placing an extended fraud alert entitles you to receive two free credit reports from each of the three main consumer reporting companies within 12 months. In addition, those firms must automatically remove your name from marketing lists for prescreened credit offers for five years (unless you opt back in). Getting the credit reports allows you to examine them quickly, then notify the appropriate agency (such as retailers, credit-card companies, and the like) of any fraudulent charges—or of any changes that a scammer may have made to your address, Social Security number or other personal data.
In 25 states, you can also get a credit freeze that prevents new lenders and creditors from looking at your personal financial history. A freeze offers more protection than a fraud alert, since responsible lenders are very unlikely to issue credit in your name without a review of your history.
For the specific rules of credit freezes, contact each credit reporting bureau:
- Equifax: www.econsumer.equifax.com/consumer /sitepage.ehtml?forward=elearning_credit11
- Experian: www.experian.com/consumer/ security_freeze.html.
- TransUnion: www.transunion.com /corporate/personal/fraudIdentityTheft/ preventing/securityFreeze.page?