If you have been affected by the recent Equifax data breach, you may be exploring your options as to what to do next. All three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, give you the option of placing a fraud alert or a credit freeze on your file. So, what is the difference between a fraud alert and a credit freeze?
When you activate an initial fraud alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit, so it may try to contact you. This can make it more difficult for an identity thief to open new accounts in your name. The initial fraud alert stays on your report for 90 days and you can renew it at the end of the 90-day period. Fraud alerts are free and the credit reporting agency you call must tell the other agencies about your alert. It also allows you to order a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Be sure the credit reporting agencies have your current contact information so they can reach you.
You can place an extended fraud alert on your credit file if you have created an Identity Theft Report. With an extended alert, you can get two free credit reports within 12 months from each of the three credit reporting agencies, and the agencies must take your name off marketing lists for pre-screened credit offers for five years, unless you request to be added back to the lists. The extended alert lasts for seven years.
A credit freeze generally stops all access to your credit report. If you wish to open a new account, apply for a job, rent an apartment, buy insurance, refinance your mortgage – any transaction requiring a credit check – you must contact the credit reporting agency to lift the freeze, either temporarily or permanently. You will get a PIN to use each time you wish to freeze or unfreeze your account. In most states, there is a fee to activate a freeze as well as to lift it – usually around $10 for each and per credit reporting agency. There also is a lead time before the freeze is lifted so you would need to arrange for it in advance or be prepared to wait a few days if you planned to apply for credit. Cost and freeze lift lead times may vary so you may wish to check your state’s law or contact the credit reporting agency in advance. In most states, a credit freeze lasts until you lift it; in a few states, it expires after seven years. Click here for the Florida Statute regarding consumer security freezes.
A credit freeze may not prevent misuse of your current accounts or other types of identity theft, such as tax refund identity theft and health insurance fraud. Also, companies with whom you do business still would have access to your credit report for some purposes.
So, fraud alert or credit freeze? It depends a lot on what you have coming up in the near future. If you’re planning to apply for a loan or mortgage, you will have to unfreeze and freeze with each application – consider the cost and time involved. If you are not planning to apply for new credit, then a credit freeze may be a good option for you.
For more information on credit fraud alerts and freezes, visit:
Federal Trade Commission – Place a Fraud Alert
Federal Trade Commission – Extended Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes
Federal Trade Commission – Fraud Alert or Credit Freeze – Which is Right for You?
UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County – Equifax Security Breach: Steps to Protect Yourself