Perhaps you lost your wallet at a club or restaurant, and you suspect that whoever has it won't think twice about using your information to apply for credit cards. In this case, the best plan is to ask any of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian or TransUnion, for a fraud alert to be placed on your account. This will prevent fraudulent credit applications bearing your name, without disrupting your life too much.
Launch the website of any of the three major credit reporting agencies. Click "Request a Fraud Alert" at the bottom of the Equifax website, "Fraud Alert" at the bottom of the Experian website, or the "Online Credit Maintenance Services" tab followed by the "Fraud Alerts" tab at the top of the TransUnion website. Skip to Step 3 if you're using the TransUnion site or Step 4 if you are using the Experian site. (See Resources for links to all three sites.)
Choose between a regular 90-day fraud alert and a special alert for military personnel on active duty, by ticking the appropriate box on the Equifax fraud alert page. Skip to Step 4.
Select "Types of Fraud Alerts" and then choose between a 90-day, seven-year or military fraud alert, and then follow the directions that appear on the TransUnion fraud alert page for signing up for free TransUnion membership. Print and sign the form that appears after you complete your membership application and enter any remaining necessary information. Mail it to the TransUnion address specified on the form along with the requested supporting documentation. Skip to Step 7.
Fill out the requested information on the Experian fraud alert page or on the page that appears when you choose your option on the Equifax page.
Tick all the necessary boxes at the bottom of the Equifax or Experian form. Click the "Submit" prompt.
Wait a second for a confirmation to appear. Print the confirmation for your records.
Obtain the free credit report that you are entitled to from each of the three credit reporting bureaus during the period of your initial alert from the U.S. Government Federal Trade Commission (FTC) credit report site. Wait about two weeks after you submit your report so that the FTC is apprised of your fraud alert status and allows you to download these reports. Inform each bureau in writing if you notice or suspect any fraudulent activity on your report.
Request an extended seven-year fraud alert from TransUnion as described in step 2 or from either of the other bureaus by printing and filling out their forms if you feel that you may be subject to additional fraudulent attempts to open credit accounts in your name after the initial 90-day period has passed. You will need a police report to obtain this level of protection.
- File a request for an initial, military or extended fraud alert with only one credit reporting bureau. It will, in turn, file the report with the other two agencies. There is no charge for any fraud alert.
- You will be able to obtain your free credit reports in Step 7 immediately if you have not requested them within the past 12 months. In that case, you can request them one more time within the 12 months after you file a fraud alert.
John DeMerceau is an American expatriate entrepreneur, marketing analyst and Web developer. He now lives and works in southeast Asia, where he creates websites and branding/marketing reports for international clients. DeMerceau graduated from Columbia University with a Bachelor of Arts in history.