One of the first steps a victim or likely victim of identity theft should look to complete in order to protect their financial well-being is issue either a fraud alert or initiate a credit freeze. At the ITRC call center our advisers regularly receive calls from consumers confused as to what exactly each of these protections do and how they work. In an effort to reduce confusion, what follows is an explanation of what each protection does and doesn't do, and which one will best fit what type of consumer or victim. For more detailed information, review fact sheet 100 in the document catalogue of the ITRC website at www.idtheftcenter.org.
Fraud Alert - A fraud alert heightens credit issuer's awareness that they need to authenticate and verify the applicant before issuing credit. Most security conscious banking and financial institutions as well as major credit issuers will take notice of a fraud alert. However, it is not 100% reliable and not always heeded. They don't affect your credit score but may slightly slow down the application process. When you initially place a fraud alert as a potential victim of identity theft, you will be offered a free credit report as part of your federal rights. This is not the same as the free federal annualcreditreport.com
Security or Credit Freeze - With a freeze; a company may not look at your credit report for the purposes of establishing new lines of credit. Companies you already have an existing relationship with (example: a credit card, loan or utility service) may view your reports but only to review your credit-worthiness. Placing a freeze is a strong step to take and will affect your ability to get instant credit since it can take up to 3 days to thaw a report. However, it also locks out thieves. In those states with freeze laws, most state that victims with a police report get this service for free. Most states also allow the consumer to buy a freeze. You may thaw your freeze anytime you wish to apply for credit but you will need to plan ahead. At the time a freeze is established, the victim or consumer is given a pin number as a way of confirming their identity. Anyone considering a security freeze needs to be very careful not to lose this pin number as it can be extremely difficult to thaw (unfreeze) your credit report without the issued pin number.
The difference between these two options is the level of security. A freeze will place a higher degree of assurance to a victim that new accounts will not be opened, but leaves much less flexibility than a fraud alert. Whichever tool a victim of identity theft chooses, they should continue to be conscientious of what is going on with their credit file and know that the Identity Theft Resource Center is always here to answer questions and assist victims.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.