What do I do if I think I have been a victim of identity theft?
Answer: If you think you've been a victim of fraud or identity theft, contact one of the nationwide credit reporting companies and place a fraud alert in your credit report.
A fraud alert requires creditors who check your credit report to take steps to verify your identity before opening a new account, issuing an additional card, or increasing the credit limit on an existing account based on a consumer's request. When you place a fraud alert on your credit report at one of the nationwide credit reporting companies, it must notify the others.
There are two main types of fraud alerts: initial fraud alerts and extended alerts.
Initial fraud alerts
You can place an initial fraud alert on your credit report if you believe you are (or are about to become), a victim of fraud or identity theft. Credit reporting companies will keep that alert on your file for one year. After one year the initial fraud alert will expire and be removed, you have the option to place another initial fraud alert at that time. An initial fraud alert requires that the creditor take reasonable steps to make sure the person making a new credit request in your name is actually you. If you provide a telephone number, the lender must call you or take reasonable steps to verify whether you are the person making the credit request.
When you place an initial fraud alert in your file, you're entitled to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies. These free reports do not count as your free annual report from each credit reporting company.
You can place an extended alert on your credit report after your identity has been stolen and you file an identity theft report.
When you place an extended fraud alert in your file, you're entitled to order two free copies of your credit report from each nationwide credit reporting company over a 12 month period.
An extended alert is good for seven years. An extended alert requires that the creditor contact you in person or through the telephone number or other contact method you designate to verify whether you are the person making the credit request.
Under a new federal law effective September 21, 2018, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit record for free at the three nationwide credit reporting companies – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – no matter what state you live in. A security freeze also called a credit freeze, stops new creditors from accessing your credit file and others from opening accounts in your name, until you lift the freeze. The federal law requiring free security freezes does not apply to someone who requests your credit report for employment, tenant-screening, or insurance purposes.
Unlike fraud alerts, if you place a security freeze with one credit reporting company they will not notify the other credit reporting companies. You must contact each credit reporting company individually if you would like to place a security freeze with all three nationwide credit reporting companies.
Because most businesses will not open credit accounts without checking your credit report, a freeze can stop identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. Be mindful that a freeze doesn't prevent identity thieves from taking over existing accounts.
Special help for servicemembers
Members of the military (such as members of the Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard) have an additional option available to them — active duty alerts, which give service members protection while they are on active duty. Active duty alerts last for 12 months.
When you place an active duty alert on your credit report, creditors must take reasonable steps to make sure the person making the request is actually you before opening an account, issuing an additional credit card on an existing account, or increasing the credit limit on your existing account. Your name also will be removed for two years from the nationwide credit reporting companies' pre-screen marketing lists for credit offers and insurance.