DEFINITION of 'Credit Fraud Alert'

A notice to a credit reporting bureau that a consumer’s identity may have been stolen and a request for new credit in that consumer’s name may not be legitimate. Credit fraud alerts are free to place and require the consumer to submit proof of identity so the bureau knows the request is valid.

BREAKING DOWN 'Credit Fraud Alert'

If you believe someone may have stolen your personal or financial information and could use it to open fraudulent accounts in your name, contact one of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — to place a credit fraud alert on your account. You can usually complete the process online, but you can also do it by mail or phone. The bureau you contact is supposed to then notify the other two about the fraud alert, but you may want to contact all three yourself to cover your bases. When you place a fraud alert, you are also entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each bureau. Examine your credit report for signs of fraud, such as accounts you don’t recognize.

While the credit fraud alert is in effect, if anyone, including you, attempts to apply for credit in your name, the financial institution receiving the credit request is expected to take additional steps to verify the applicant’s identity and make sure the request is actually coming from the person named on the application. Thus, a fraud alert can create a bit of a hassle if you want to open a new account yourself, but it may also create enough of a hassle to prevent a thief from opening a fraudulent account in your name.

There are three types of credit fraud alerts. An initial alert is valid for 90 days and can be renewed for 90-day terms thereafter. An extended alert is valid for 7 years and requires you to submit a police report to the credit bureaus notifying them that you have been a victim of identity theft and have reported the crime to the authorities. An active military alert is valid for 1 year and can help protect your credit while you’re deployed.

For even greater protection when you are certain your identity has been stolen, consider a credit freeze.

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