August 2006:
Fight Fraud– Activate an Alert!

Are recent large-scale security breaches making you a touch nervous? If so, you may be considering placing a fraud alert on your credit report to help guard against identity theft. Before you do, know what it can – and cannot – do to safeguard your information.

What it is
A fraud alert is a statement you place on your credit report, warning creditors that your personal data is (or may soon be) in the wrong hands. Once it’s on file, creditors will have to call you to verify your identity before issuing any new loan or line of credit.

The alert takes effect within 24 hours of placing it, and is attached to your credit report for a specific number of months (three for Experian, six for Equifax, and twelve for TransUnion). If you’ve already been hit by a thief, you can apply for a seven-year victim statement. Also, once the alert is in effect, credit pre-approval letters won’t be coming in for a while – your name will be removed from credit marketing lists for two years.

How you do it
Call the credit bureaus’ fraud departments to activate the process. Data is shared, so your alert request will be automatically extended to the other bureaus.

The benefits
A fraud alert acts a like a roadblock. It certainly can hinder a fraudster’s ability to open an account in your name. If you suspect foul play, putting an alert on you credit file does make sense – one call to you, and the thief is foiled.

The drawbacks
A fraud alert has power over new accounts only – it can’t help if someone has illegally used your existing lines of credit. It may also delay your own credit and loan applications, since the creditor has to jump through hoops to ensure you are who you say you are. You could lose out on those special “one-day only” deals (which do seem to come up again anyway!).

Removing the alert
If you want the alert removed early, you’ll have to request it in writing. Include your name, Social Security number, current and previous addresses, birth date, and telephone number. Send it to the fraud department of each credit bureau via certified mail, return receipt requested.

Can fraud alerts help prevent crooks from taking advantage of your personal and financial information? Yes. But for added security, check your credit reports (through Annual Credit Report Request Service) regularly for accuracy. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s your legal right.

Fraud Victim Assistance Department
Phone: 800-680-7289
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634-6790

Consumer Fraud Division
Phone: 800-525-6285 or: 404-885-8000
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experian's National Consumer Assistance
Phone: 888-397-3742
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013

Annual Credit Report Request Service
Phone: 877-322-8228