In this article:
Identity theft and fraud protection for your finances, personal info, and devices.
What Is a Fraud Alert? How Do You Place One?
A fraud alert is a warning sign for any potential lender that they need to take extra steps to verify your identity before opening new lines of credit. The alert signifies that there’s a plausible chance that fraud could be committed with your credit information.
Think of it as a yellow light instead of a stop sign. It doesn’t prevent new credit applications, but urges caution when creating a new account.
To place a fraud alert, all you need to do is contact one of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. By law, the bureau you contact will need to inform the other two of the alert.
Here’s how to get in touch with each bureau to place a fraud alert:
- Place an Experian fraud alert online
- Place an Equifax fraud alert online
- Place a fraud alert with TransUnion online
Placing a fraud alert is free for anyone.
When you start the process, you’ll be asked to provide contact information like a phone number as well as a unique PIN for your account. Make sure to use unique and secure passwords and PINs — don’t use easy-to-guess numbers like your date of birth or address.
What Are the Different Types of Fraud Alerts?
There are three different types of fraud alerts you can place. Choosing the right one depends on your personal situation and whether or not you’ve already been the victim of identity theft.
Here’s a quick rundown on each of the different types of fraud alerts:
Initial fraud alert
- What is it? An initial fraud alert warns companies that they should verify your identity before expending new credit in your name. When you apply for an initial fraud alert, you’ll also get a free credit report from the bureau. Check for any suspicious activity or incorrect information on your credit history.
- Who is it for? Anyone who is concerned about credit fraud or identity theft can place an initial fraud alert on their credit file.
- How long does it last? These fraud alerts will stay on your credit file for one year. At the end of the year, you can extend the alert by contacting the credit bureau. Or, you can let it expire and no action is required.
Extended fraud alert
- What is it? An extended fraud alert makes it even harder for businesses to open new credit accounts in your name as they must contact you first. As part of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to place a fraud alert with all three credit bureaus if you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft.
- Who is it for? An extended alert is only available to people who have had their identities stolen. To be eligible, you must file an official identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov or a police report with your local law enforcement agency.
- How long does it last? An extended fraud alert lasts seven years.
Active duty fraud alert
- What is it? An active duty fraud alert gives you all the same benefits as an extended fraud alert but with the added context that you are or are about to be deployed.
- Who is it for? These alerts are only available to active duty service members who are concerned about risks to their credit.
- How long does it last? To start, an active duty fraud alert lasts for one year. However, after the first year, you can extend it for the remainder of your deployment.
Why Should You Place a Fraud Alert?
There are two reasons why you would want to place a fraud alert on your credit report:
- You’re concerned about the risk of identity theft. Most people choose to place a fraud alert as a precaution if they think their information could have been exposed. For example, as part of a data breach or if your wallet or credit card was stolen.
- You’ve already been the victim of identity theft. If identity thieves have access to your sensitive information, they can repeatedly attack your financial accounts. A fraud alert (or better yet, a security freeze), can stop criminals from draining your bank account, opening fraudulent loans in your name, or committing other types of financial fraud.
How To Remove a Fraud Alert With All Three Credit Bureaus
No matter what type of fraud alert you've placed on your account (one-year, active duty military, or extended), they can all be updated or removed through the same processes.
The easiest thing you can do is to let a fraud alert expire at the end of its year. After a year (or more), the alert is automatically removed, unless you extend it. This option requires no action on your part.
Related: What Is a Credit Freeze? Can It Protect You From Fraud? →
Why remove a fraud alert in the first place?
A fraud alert does you no harm. Legally, a fraud alert can’t cause a credit application to be denied. Having one won’t harm your credit score, either.
However, a fraud alert does make the process of applying for credit slower (as lenders need to verify your identity first). This means you won’t be able to get instant in-store credit and your approval process will be slower than you might like.
If you'd like to remove the fraud alert before its expiration, you can contact the credit bureaus at any time during the term. This will not affect your credit score.
Here’s how to remove a fraud alert from each of the credit bureaus:
How To Remove an Experian Fraud Alert
To remove an Experian fraud alert, you'll need to contact the credit bureau online or by mail with your request.
Remove the fraud alert online:
- Head to Experian's Fraud Alert Center.
- Fill out this form verifying your identity, and putting in writing your request to remove the fraud alert from your credit report.
- Upload the complete form on Experian's upload page.
Remove the fraud alert by mail:
- Head to Experian's Fraud Alert Center
- Print out and complete this form, putting in writing your request to remove the fraud alert from your credit report.
- Photocopy a government-issued identification card and a utility bill, bank statement, or insurance statement (to verify your identity).
- Mail all of these documents to: Experian, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
Related: Identity Guard vs. Experian IdentityWorks: 2023 Comparison →
How To Remove an Equifax Fraud Alert
To remove an Equifax fraud alert, you'll need to contact the credit bureau by phone or by mail.
Remove the fraud alert by phone:
- According to Equifax, you can update your fraud alert or active duty alert at any time by calling Equifax at 800-525-6285. Be prepared with information to verify your identity while on the phone with an Equifax representative.
Remove the fraud alert by mail:
Write a letter indicating that you would like to remove a fraud alert from your personal credit report.
Find and photocopy one document to validate your identity. Equifax states that acceptable documents include:
- Valid driver's licenses
- Social Security cards
- Pay stubs
- W-2 and 1099 forms
- Court documents for a legal name change
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Divorce decrees
- State ID
- Military ID
Find and photocopy one document to validate your address. Equifax states that acceptable documents include:
- Utility bills with the correct address (gas, water, cable, residential phone bill),
- Cell phone bills
- Pay stubs
- W-2 or 1099 forms
- Rental lease agreements or house deeds
- Mortgage statements
- Bank statements
- State IDs
Mail your written request and two photocopied documents to: Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 105069, Atlanta, GA 30348-5069.
How To Remove a TransUnion Fraud Alert
TransUnion requires an online account to place and remove fraud alerts.
Remove the fraud alert online:
- Sign into your TransUnion account and follow the instructions for removing or updating your fraud alert.
- Take this opportunity to update your account password and enable two-factor authentication (2FA), if it’s available.
How Long Does It Take for a Fraud Alert To Be Removed?
The credit bureaus don’t share information about how long it takes for a fraud alert to be removed from your credit account. However, most consumers report that their alerts were lifted anywhere from 1–5 days after the agency received their request.
Fraud Alert vs Credit Freeze: What’s the Difference?
A fraud alert is only one of the tools you can use to protect your credit file from fraudsters. Another good option is a credit freeze — especially if you’ve been a victim of fraud.
A credit freeze — also known as a security freeze — restricts all access to your credit file.
If a fraud alert is a yellow light for lenders, then a credit freeze is a brick wall. Rather than just suggest that lenders verify your identity, a credit freeze locks your credit report from being accessed.
Here's the biggest difference between a fraud alert and a credit freeze:
- A fraud alert will allow lenders to see your credit information, with a notice attached that they should take extra steps to verify your identity before issuing new lines of credit. This slows down the process of extending credit, giving you time to catch the fraudulent activity.
- A credit freeze will not allow lenders to see your credit information. As most lenders won’t extend credit without seeing your credit history, this should block anyone from opening new accounts in your name — even you. This means that you’ll need to contact the credit bureaus and lift the freeze when you want to apply for new credit, such as credit cards, mortgages, or loans.
- A credit lock is a third option. A lock gives you the same security as a credit freeze but can be toggled off and on using an identity theft protection service like Aura. This is usually a paid service, but gives you hassle-free protection for your credit account.
Related: Is Identity Theft Protection Worth It? →
Who should freeze their credit?
- Children. Child identity theft is a growing problem with more than 1.25 million child victims in 2021 alone. Freeze your child’s credit until they’re old enough to need it to protect them against fraudsters.
- Victims of identity theft. Upwards of 30% of all identity theft victims are repeat victims [*]. If you’ve been targeted once, freezing your credit can help prevent you from being hit again.
- Anyone who doesn’t need regular access to their credit file. A credit freeze can make taking out loans or new credit cards more complicated. But it can also save you from the devastating impacts of financial fraud. If you don’t need regular access to your credit file, freeze it until you do.
Does a credit freeze keep you completely safe?
Unfortunately, not all lenders review your credit file before opening new accounts in your name. This means that a scammer could still use your financial information to take out loans or open new credit cards.
In these cases, it pays to use a credit monitoring service such as Identity Guard or Aura.
Identity Guard monitors your credit across all three bureaus as well as your linked bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial accounts. If it finds any signs of fraudulent activity, you’ll get a fraud alert so you can shut down the scammer quickly.
And if the worst should happen, you’re covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft.
How To Keep Your Credit File Safe From Fraudsters
If you’re curious about placing and removing fraud alerts, then there’s a good chance you’re worried about keeping your credit secure. While the tools that credit reporting companies provide can help, there are more ways you can prevent fraud from happening to you.
Here are a few tips to keep you and your finances safe:
Regularly check your credit report
At any time, you can request a free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Regularly check your report for signs of fraud or incorrect information. This includes:
- Hard credit inquiries you didn’t request.
- New accounts you didn’t open.
- Incorrect information, such as your mailing address, SSN, or misspelled name.
- Higher credit utilization than you expect to see.
- Bankruptcies that you didn’t file.
Related: How to Repair Your Credit Score After Identity Theft →
Shred any sensitive documents
Criminals have many sophisticated ways of stealing your financial information. But many still opt for the basics: mail theft and dumpster diving.
Make sure you shred any document that contains financial information before throwing it away. This includes bank statements, credit card offers, and anything with your SSN or banking information. Whenever possible, opt for online account statements.
Related: How To Tell If a Check Is Fake (With Examples) →
Secure your devices and avoid public Wi-Fi
Scammers can hack your Wi-Fi, break into your email account, or install malware on your device that spys on you. Any of these scams can put your financial information at risk.
Protect your devices and network with antivirus software and a virtual private network (VPN). These tools can help block hackers from accessing your devices and stealing your sensitive information.
Update your accounts with secure passwords and 2FA
Keep your bank and other sensitive accounts secure with complex passwords (at least 8 characters and a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols) and a password manager.
A password manager keeps all your passwords in a secure location and gives you easy access to them when you need them. These tools can also warn you if an account has been compromised or if you’ve repeated passwords and put yourself at risk.
Whenever possible, also enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication (2FA and MFA). This is an additional security step that requires a special code along with your account name and password.
But while most people use text messages (SMS) for authentication, this can be bypassed by hackers. Instead, opt for an authenticator app like Authy or Google.
Sign up for credit monitoring
Credit monitoring services can warn you about fraudulent activity that other tools miss. For a small monthly fee, you can get near real-time monitoring of all your financial accounts.
Know the warning signs of identity theft
Financial fraud is usually the end result of identity theft. But if you can catch the criminal early, you might be able to protect your credit file and bank account.
Be on the lookout for some of the warning signs of identity theft, including:
- Unfamiliar charges on your bank statements.
- New credit cards or loans in your name.
- Calls or letters from debt collectors you don’t recognize.
- A notice that someone filed a tax return in your name.
- Unfamiliar medical bills in the mail.
- Missing mail or bills.
- A sudden drop in your credit score.
- Suspicious log-in attempts or 2FA codes you didn’t request.
- An increase in spam emails and calls.
The Bottom Line: Keep Your Credit Secure
Your credit score impacts everything from your credit card’s interest rate to your ability to apply for mortgages and loans. The last thing you want is for a criminal to take advantage of your good score and ruin your reputation.
Use the tools available to you to keep your score safe — fraud alerts, credit freezes, and credit monitoring. Together, these tools make you a much harder target for scammers who want to steal your credit.
For added peace of mind, consider signing up for Identity Guard’s identity theft protection.