A credit fraud alert is a notification placed on a person's credit file with the major credit bureaus to aid in the prevention of unauthorized credit accounts being established in his or her name. This often is done when there is suspicion that the person's identity might have been stolen. The person whose file has the alert provides a contact phone number that creditors can call to verify the identity of the person applying for credit with their establishment. A credit fraud alert also makes those accessing the credit file aware that the person has been the victim of identity theft, or that someone has tried to establish unauthorized credit in his or her name.
Identity theft has been on the increase around the world, costing consumers and credit companies enormous amounts of money each year. Many creditors find that it is in their best interest to make an effort to confirm the identity of an applicant before extending a new credit line. Banks and other financial institutions are not necessarily required by law to contact applicants, however.
The credit fraud alert is different from a credit freeze, which is available only in certain areas. A freeze locks access to a report, making it accessible only when a person unfreezes his or her account, such as when planning to apply for a new line of credit.
Placing a credit fraud alert often only takes a few minutes and is made active in a file in approximately one business day. Someone who wants to place an alert should request it in writing from the major credit bureaus. In the United States, credit fraud alerts are valid for 90 days and must be refiled if the person wishes to maintain the alert. Credit fraud alerts also should prevent unsolicited pre-authorized credit cards offers from being issued.
Anyone who has been the victim of credit fraud or identity theft also can place what is called a victim's statement in his or her credit file, which remains there for seven years. The person will need to provide proof to the credit bureaus that he or she has been the victim of credit fraud or identity theft. He or she should file a report with the local law enforcement agency and provide a copy to the credit bureaus for their records.
Credit fraud alerts can be placed in the files of minor children as well. In such cases, the minor child's personal information, including his or her complete name and address, a copy of his or her official birth certificate and a copy of the parent's government-issued identification bearing a current address, must be provided. Additional information also might be required.
To remove an active alert, a person can submit a written request to the credit bureau's credit fraud department requesting to terminate the alert. Although not a guaranteed protection for a credit report, a credit fraud alert might be helpful in preventing unauthorized accounts from being opened. There are certain drawbacks, but these alerts can help a person maintain a good credit history.