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2 simple ways to protect your identity

December 06, 2018

By Pam Leibfried

I’ve been part of a couple of retailer and insurer database breaches, so I know that I may now be at a higher risk of having my identity compromised or being a victim of credit fraud. Two ways that I can protect myself are by using fraud alerts and credit freezes.

Here’s a simple summary of what these credit protection options do and how they differ: A fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report after they take steps to verify your identity, while a credit freeze locks down your credit.

What you need to know about fraud alerts

What a fraud alert does. A fraud alert notifies potential creditors that you believe you are at risk of identity theft. When you have an active fraud alert, the credit reporting companies must contact you to confirm than any request for your credit information (for a loan, credit card, apartment rental, job application, etc.) is legitimate. This makes it much more difficult for a fraudster to use your identity to open new lines of credit in your name. On the other hand, it can also delay the approval process when you apply for credit or a job.

What a fraud alert DOESN’T do. Although a fraud alert can stop someone from opening new lines of credit in your name, it does not protect you from fraud related to existing accounts. For example, a fraud alert makes it harder for thieves to open a fraudulent credit card, but would not stop them from making fraudulent charges on an existing credit card if that account information were compromised. This is why it is important to continue to diligently monitor your accounts even after you enact a fraud alert.

Only one fraud alert request is required. When you set up one of these alerts with any one of the three major credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian or Transunion), that company will automatically inform the other two to add an alert; you do not need to contact each of the three companies separately.

Cost: Fraud alerts are free.

Types of fraud alerts. There are three types of fraud alerts:

  1. Initial fraud alert:
    A 90-day alert that is available to anyone who requests it. You can request an alert every 90 days to keep your fraud alert active indefinitely, or you can pay for credit fraud monitoring services that will renew the request for you every 90 days as part of their services. Please note that many of the free credit monitoring packages offered by companies who have experienced a data breach include a fraud alert. If you were a part of a recent breach at Target, Home Depot, Anthem or other companies and have opted into the credit monitoring service they offered for their customers, you may already be protected by a fraud alert.  
  2. Extended fraud alert:
    A seven-year alert available only to people who have been victims of identity theft. Documentation of an identity theft report is required. If you request an extended fraud alert, you will not receive any prescreened credit offers for the first five years of the alert period.
  3. Active duty military fraud alert:
    A one-year alert available only to active duty military personnel. If you request an active duty military fraud alert, you will not receive any prescreened credit offers for two years.

What you need to know about credit freezes

What a credit freeze does. A credit freeze (aka security freeze), lets you restrict access to your credit report. This makes it less likely that identity thieves could open new accounts in your name. Because most creditors want to see your credit report before they approve a new account, keeping them from accessing your account may stop them from extending credit if a fraudster applies for it using your information. When you want to allow someone to access your credit report – when you apply for a loan or job, for example – you can contact the credit reporting companies to temporarily lift the freeze and allow access to your credit report.

What a credit freeze DOESN’T do. A credit freeze does not stop a thief from using a stolen credit or debit card number, so you still need to monitor your accounts just like you did before you set up your credit freeze.

Three requests are required. Because credit freezes are so much more limiting than fraud alerts, you can’t enact credit freezes with a single request to one of the credit reporting companies. Instead, you need to file a request at each of the big-three credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and Transunion. If you file a credit freeze request with only one credit reporting company, any fraudster who applies with a creditor who uses the others may still be able to open credit, so it is crucial that you request a credit freeze with all three companies if you choose this option.

Credit freezes are free. Although there used to be fees to freeze your credit, as of late in 2018, federal law has mandated that credit freezes are free. To learn more about credit freezes under the new law, check out our blog article on the new credit freeze law


Pam Leibfried is a marketing content specialist whose love of words led to a writing and editing career. After a brief stint teaching English, she transitioned to corporate communications and spent 20 years at The Nielsen Company before joining Alliant’s content development team. Early in her work life, Pam’s friend Matt explained the benefits of a 401(k) and her dad encouraged her to start a Roth IRA. Their good counsel prompted her to prioritize retirement savings, which just might enable her to retire early so she can read more and live out the slogan on her fave T-shirt:  “I have a retirement plan: I plan on quilting.”