Putting a fraud alert or credit flag on your credit report is one of the first things you should do if you suspect someone is trying to open credit accounts in your name. Depending on the situation, you may even need to obtain a credit freeze to help mitigate some of the risks associated with credit identity theft.
Below, we’ll overview how to put a flag on your social security number through your credit bureaus. We’ll also explore what type of credit flags you’ll need, and how to ensure no new accounts are opened in your name.
What are credit fraud alerts or credit flags?
Credit fraud alerts, sometimes known as “credit flags”, are alerts placed with credit reporting agencies. These alerts let those agencies know that you may be at risk of, or are currently experiencing, identity theft or credit fraud. When you issue an Equifax, Transunion, or Experian fraud alert, the reporting agency will do two key things:
- Notify the other credit reporting agencies that there may be fraudulent activity on your accounts
- Inform creditors that they may need to take extra steps before verifying and opening any new accounts in your name
You can place a credit flag or fraud alert with any credit reporting agency for free. You also won’t be charged for the extra steps creditors will take to verify any new accounts.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of identity fraud, you should alert one of the three major credit rating agencies immediately. All agencies will accept fraud alerts as long as you provide the requisite information (Social Security Number and potentially other personally identifying information).
Unfortunately, requesting something like a Transunion or Experian fraud alert is only a partial solution. Credit report flags only “ask” creditors to consider being more cautious when allowing new accounts to be opened in your name. If you’re seriously worried about credit card fraud, it’s best to completely request a credit freeze instead and then sign up for a credit monitoring service.
What is a credit report?
Your credit report is a document that displays information about your credit history. Credit reports will include:
- Current and past addresses
- Current and former places of employment
- Open credit accounts (credit cards, car loans, home loans, student loans etc.)
- Closed credit accounts
- Hard credit inquiries
- Soft credit inquiries
- Collections (usually after a credit account has been left unpaid for too long and gone to a collection agency)
- Public inquiries that may affect credit score (such as bankruptcies and legal judgments)
When you put a credit flag on your credit report, the intention is to protect all of this information from getting misused following an identity theft. When new accounts are opened in your name, they will eventually show up on your credit report.
If you see what looks like fraudulent accounts or inquiries on your account, you should request a fraud alert immediately.
There are a few ways you can flag your social security number. The primary way to do this is to through a fraud alert, which will put extra protections in place for people trying to access or use your social security number or other private account details associated with your credit.
To get a credit flag or fraud alert placed with any of the three credit bureaus, do the following:
- Contact one of the three credit reporting agencies (Transunion, Equifax, or Experian). You can call or email, but we recommend you use the online reporting options each service makes available.
- After a few days, check with the other two credit bureaus to verify that they’ve received the fraud alert as well.
- Update your information with each credit rating agency to make sure they can contact you in case something comes up or the alert triggers unusual activity.
You can contact the credit reporting agencies using the following information:
|Agency||Online Reporting Tool||Phone Number||Mailing Address|
|Experian||Click here||(888) 397-3742||Experian Consumer Fraud Division
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
|Transunion||Click here||(800) 916-8800||TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
|Equifax||Click here||(800) 525-6285||Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30348-5069
As stated earlier, you’ll only need to contact one credit reporting agency. By law, each of the agencies must contact the other agencies after you set up a fraud alert. This makes your life easier, as you’ll only need to do this once.
Types of fraud alerts
Each credit reporting agency will allow you to set up one of three fraud alerts types:
- Initial fraud alert
- Extended fraud alert
- Active military fraud alert
Each fraud alert serves a different purpose. It’s important to decide whether your situation requires any of these options. It is unlikely that you will be able place multiple types of fraud alerts on any one account, so if you’re unsure of which one you need, you may want to contact one of the credit reporting agencies, such as Experian, describe your situation, and allow them to help you decide how best to proceed.
Let’s explore each of these types of alerts in more detail.
Initial fraud alert
An initial fraud alert is a flag on your credit report that tells the other credit reporting agencies to verify information whenever there’s a request to extend credit.
Initial fraud alerts last for only 90 days. If you need a longer-term credit flag, you will need an extended fraud alert.
Extended fraud alert
An extended fraud alert carries all of the benefits of an initial fraud alert, but can last for 7 years.
You can have this fraud alert removed from your credit report at any time. This is a good option if you’ve experienced serious identity theft that may take a longer period of time to resolve.
Active military fraud alert (Active duty alert)
The active duty alert is designed for members of the military who have been stationed overseas for an extended period of time. Deployed service members are can place this type of credit alert on their credit to help reduce the risk of identity theft.
To get an active duty alert on your credit report, you will need to follow the same steps as with getting an initial or extended fraud alert but ask for the active duty alert instead.
Active military fraud alerts last for 1 year until re-instated. However, this fraud alert also removes your name from prescreened credit card marketing offers for 2 years.
Fraud alerts for children and how to check your child’s credit report
Children are among the most common victims of identity theft. Unfortunately, many parents may not realize their children’s information has been stolen and misused until their children become adults and check their credit for the first time. Additionally, many children have their identity stolen and misused by adult family members or friends, making the issue much worse.
If your minor child has a credit report, this is a giant red flag and a good indication of child identity theft!
Simply put, you won’t know whether or not your need to be concerned about child identity theft until your check to determine if your child has a credit report, and examine what information is on it. And even if you don’t find any report, it may be a good idea to create one and then place a credit freeze on that report to prevent misuse in the future.
Minors aged 14-17 can contact any of the credit reporting agencies to check their own credit report. Parents of children under the age of 18 can do this at any time as well.
Here’s how to check your child’s credit report
To check your child’s credit report with Equifax and Experian, do the following:
- Contact one of the credit reporting agencies and explain that you need to obtain a credit report for a minor child.
- Provide the required identification: government issued ID, such as a driver’s license; proof of address; copy if child’s birth certificate and social security card; child’s full name, including middle name and generation (Jr. III, etc.); child’s date of birth; and any previous addresses from the past two years).
- Mail or fax the required documentation to the credit reporting agency using the mailing addresses found about. Note: for Equifax, add “ – Minor Child” to the company name to ensure faster retrieval to the right department.
To check your child’s credit report with Transunion, do the following:
- Use Transunion’s Child Identity Theft Inquiry form.
- If Transunion locates a credit report is open for your child, it will ask for more information to verify your identity. This information can be submitted using the mailing address found above, or via a fax number Transunion if Transunion provides one.
What are the drawbacks of a fraud alert?
Activating a fraud alert will cause problems if you’re used to walking into an electronics store, signing up for their amazing “don’t pay anything later” credit offer, and walking out of the store with a new big-screen TV.
With a fraud alert active, you have to be available at either your work phone or home phone to approve opening the credit account. No big deal. It will just require a short delay in your instant gratification and a call-back to the credit company authorizing the new account.
If you can live with that, putting a fraud alert on your credit will help protect you in some situations.
NOTE: You want to be cautious if you’re just about to apply for a home loan or refinance. Let your broker know that you have a fraud alert in place because you’re trying to protect yourself against fraud.
On the plus side, a fraud alert won’t cause any problems with your current credit card, bank or credit accounts. It’s focused on new credit accounts, not the ones you already have opened.
How to remove a fraud alert on your credit report
If you decide you want to remove a fraud alert on Equifax, Experian, or Transunion credit reports, you’ll need to request removal it in writing.
You’ll have to include your:
- Social Security Number
- Current and previous addresses
- Date of birth
- Telephone number
You’ll need to send this information to the fraud department of the credit bureaus where the alert has been placed. We also suggest using certified mail or overnight shipping. You want to be able to track a letter that has all that critical data. You could also just wait the 90 days for the alert to expire.
Fraud alerts vs credit freezes
There is a fundamental difference between a credit fraud alert and a credit freeze. A fraud alert tells credit agencies to take extra precaution when there is an application for a credit line. A credit freeze outright disables your ability to obtain credit for as long as it is active.
You might want to use a fraud alert if you have had a near miss with credit fraud. But you might wish to issue a temporary credit freeze if you have been a victim of identity theft and the case is still ongoing.