As much as we try to protect our privacy, sometimes scammers are able to access our information through means beyond our control. If you have reason to believe you may be a victim of identity theft, you need to contact the three major credit bureaus; Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, to put the proper security measures in place. Two features that can protect your finances from identity theft are fraud alerts and credit freezes.

Fraud alerts

Fraud alerts serve as a red flag to lenders and lets them know that they need to take additional steps to verify your identity before opening an account in your name.  When you request a fraud alert with one of the credit bureaus, they will automatically inform the other two. Once the fraud alert is in place, you will receive a confirmation letter in the U.S. mail from each of the credit reporting companies. Fraud alerts are free and fall into three different categories.

• Initial fraud alert – Offers 90 day protection to anyone who thinks they may become a victim of identity theft. This is the route you want to take if your wallet has been lost or stolen. If anyone tries to open a new account, increase the credit limit on an existing account or obtain a new card on an existing account in your name, the lender will need to take extra precautions to verify your identity.

• Extended fraud alert – Offers 7 years of protection to those who have been victims of identity theft. Creditors will have to take extra steps to verify your identity, you’ll get two free credit reports from each of the credit bureaus for the first 12 months, and your name will be removed from any pre-approved credit or insurance offers for five years.

• Active duty military alert – Offers one year of protection to military members who want to minimize the risk of identity theft while they’re deployed. Creditors will need to take additional measures to verify your identity and your name will be removed from any pre-approved credit or insurance offers for two years.

To ensure that no unauthorized accounts have been opened in your name, make sure you get a free copy of your annual credit report from annualcreditreport.com which is operated by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Credit freeze

There are some cases in which you may need a stronger level of protection.  If your information was involved in a major data breach, consider implementing a credit freeze.  A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report making it harder for identity thieves to open a new account in your name.  However, it will not stop them from making charges on existing accounts.

To place a freeze on your credit reports, you will need to contact each of the credit bureaus directly. Once your request has been received, each credit reporting company will mail you a confirmation letter with a PIN. Make sure you keep the PIN stored in a safe place because you’ll need it if you decide to have the freeze lifted.  A credit freeze will not affect your credit score or prevent you from getting a copy of your free annual credit report.

The fee for this service varies from state to state but usually ranges from $5 to $10. Keep in mind, if you plan to rent an apartment, apply for a job or open a new account, you’ll have to pay an additional fee to have the freeze lifted.

If you need to request a fraud alert or credit freeze, the three credit bureaus can be reached at:

• Equifax – www.Equifax.com/CreditReportAssistance or 888-766-0008.
• Experian – www.Experian.com/fraudalert or 888-397-3742.
• TransUnion – www.TransUnion.com/fraud or 800-680-7289.