What is a fraud alert?

Young male looking at his credit card in a sunny room, looking worried and wondering what a fraud alert is.Image: Young male looking at his credit card in a sunny room, looking worried and wondering what a fraud alert is.

In a Nutshell

To place a fraud alert on your credit reports, contact one of the major consumer credit bureaus. It will alert creditors and the other two bureaus that you may be a victim of identity theft or fraud.
Editorial Note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.
Advertiser Disclosure

We think it's important for you to understand how we make money. It's pretty simple, actually. The offers for financial products you see on our platform come from companies who pay us. The money we make helps us give you access to free credit scores and reports and helps us create our other great tools and educational materials.

Compensation may factor into how and where products appear on our platform (and in what order). But since we generally make money when you find an offer you like and get, we try to show you offers we think are a good match for you. That's why we provide features like your Approval Odds and savings estimates.

Of course, the offers on our platform don't represent all financial products out there, but our goal is to show you as many great options as we can.

If you’ve been the victim of identity theft or fraud, you can contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit reports.

A fraud alert is a statement in your credit reports that alerts anyone reviewing the reports that you may be a victim of fraud or identity theft. This alerts creditors and lenders that they should perform more-thorough vetting — such as calling to check whether you’re actually at a particular store trying to take out new credit — when verifying your identity before extending credit in your name.

Here’s what you should know about the different types of fraud alerts, how to place an alert on your credit reports, when you should place one, and if an alert can affect your credit scores.


Types of fraud alerts

There are two main types of fraud alerts you can place in your credit reports: initial fraud alerts and extended alerts.

The initial fraud alert expires after 90 days. Once it expires, the credit bureaus will automatically remove it from your reports. After the initial fraud alert is removed, you can then request another 90-day fraud alert if you think you’re still at risk for identity theft.

An extended fraud alert can last seven years and can only be placed on your credit reports after your identity has been stolen and you’ve filed an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission.

Sometimes you’ll also need to file a report with local law enforcement. With an extended alert, a creditor must contact you in person or through your designated contact method to make sure that you’re actually the person trying to request credit.


How to place a fraud alert on your credit reports

  1. Contact one of the three major credit bureaus
  2. Request the right action
  3. Obtain and review a free copy of your credit reports
  4. Let the fraud alert expire or remove it early if it’s no longer necessary
  5. Renew the fraud alert or request a different type if necessary

1. Contact one of the three major credit bureaus

You can ask for a fraud alert to be placed on your account with the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion or Experian — by requesting the alert online or by phone.

You need to contact only one of the three main credit bureaus to place fraud alerts on your credit reports from all three. That bureau is required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act to then notify the other two credit bureaus of the alert.

Here’s how to contact each of the three main credit bureaus:

Equifax Online or by calling 1-888-836-6351
Experian Online or by calling 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion Online or by calling 1-800-680-7289

2. Request the right action

Make sure you ask for the correct action. While a 90-day or seven-year fraud alert informs creditors that a consumer may be a victim of fraud, it’s not the same as a credit freeze. You can still open a new account with a fraud alert after the creditor does its due diligence and contacts you.

A credit freeze, also sometimes called a security freeze, prevents lenders from checking your credit in order to open a new account. Since most lenders won’t open an account without checking at least one credit report, a credit freeze effectively can prevent new account openings.

3. Obtain and review a free copy of your credit reports

You’re legally allowed to receive an extra copy of your credit report from each bureau after filing an initial fraud alert. With an extended alert, you’re allowed up to two free copies of your credit report from each credit bureau that placed the fraud alert for up to 12 months after the bureau placed the alert.

4. Let the fraud alert expire or remove it early if it’s no longer necessary

You can let the fraud alert expire or request that the credit bureau remove it prior to its 90-day expiration if you no longer need it. If you remove the fraud alert early, you must notify each bureau on your own to have that bureau take it off your report.

5. Renew the fraud alert or request a different type if necessary

After 90 days, you can renew the fraud alert if you wish. If you want, you can request an extended fraud alert, which can stay in effect for seven years. To do this, make sure you’ve created an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission. Don’t forget, sometimes certain credit reporting companies or creditors will also require a police report before filing an extended fraud alert.


When to place a fraud alert

“Consumers should place a fraud alert on their credit at the first sign of identity theft or fraud on their account, such as an unauthorized new line of credit opened in their name,” says John Danaher, president of Consumer Interactive at TransUnion.

Even though a fraud alert is placed on your credit reports, there’s no guarantee the alert will stop identity theft.

“Keep in mind that while a fraud alert is an important line of defense, and a red flag for lenders, it doesn’t fully prevent unauthorized accounts from being opened,” says Danaher.

Will a fraud alert affect my credit scores?

“A fraud alert does not have any impact on a consumer’s credit rating,” Danaher says.

However, the alert can sometimes delay certain credit applications until your identity can be verified.


Bottom line

A fraud alert notifies potential creditors and lenders that you’ve been (or suspect you’ve been) a victim of identity theft or fraud. It’s free to place a fraud alert, and you can remove it anytime. It’s one step you can take to help protect yourself from ID theft when you think — or know — your identity has been compromised.


About the author: Deb Hipp is a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. When she’s not writing about personal finance and new… Read more.