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Living with credit, Protecting yourself

3 advantages of a 90-day fraud alert

Sienna Kossman

Last week I came home to a notice from the police department stuck on my apartment door about reported mail theft in my immediate area. Because I’ve been waiting for a W-2 document to arrive, the news was unsettling.

I’d heard stories about mail theft before, but never really thought anything of it. I’ve always lived in places with locked mailboxes and never hesitated to put sensitive documents through the mail, figuring that was more secure than emailing them.

Nobody really thinks about snail mail anymore, right?

I’ve now realized that I’ve been rather naïve about all the ways my financial information could be stolen.

The notice explained that two incident reports have been filed and outlined several steps individuals can take to protect themselves if they think sensitive information might be compromised. One of the suggestions was to place a fraud alert on your credit.

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I decided to call Equifax and request a free 90-day fraud alert just to be safe. If someone got hold of my W-2, he would have every piece of information needed to wreak major financial havoc with my identity.

If you have never used a 90-day fraud alert to protect your credit in the event of actual or potential fraud, I suggest doing so for these reasons:

1. A little extra peace of mind doesn’t hurt.
This may seem obvious, but I think it defines exactly what requesting a 90-day fraud alert does for consumers.

When I found the mail theft notice on my door and realized that I had not yet received one of the most sensitive pieces of mail that would be coming my way this year, I felt a little helpless. I figured there would be no way of knowing if I was victim until something happened down the road. Yes, I know I can check my credit reports and scores myself, but the alert service automates the process and provides a few extra benefits too.

With the fraud alert in place, I don’t have to worry about what’s going on behind the scenes because if someone tries to use my information to open a new line of credit, increase a credit limit or request a new card, they won’t be able to. A 90-day fraud alert requires that creditors take extra measures to verify that I actually authorized the requests.

It was hard to immediately decide what to do because I wasn’t, and still am not, 100 percent sure my information was compromised. I needed a “just in case” option and that’s what a 90-day fraud alert is great for. Until I get more information about this situation, I can rest much easier knowing I am one step ahead of any fraudsters.

2. Requesting an alert is cost- and time-effective.
I have enough to worry about without the added burden of potential fraud, so when this situation unfolded, I was worried that protecting myself and my credit could be costly in more ways than one.

A 10-minute phone call was all it took to place the alert and it didn’t cost me a dime. There was also the option of filling out an online form, but I felt more comfortable making the request over the phone. I was directed through an automated process, using my phone’s keypad to enter and confirm my information. I waited on hold briefly for the alert to be processed and was then given a confirmation number to verify the service and keep tabs on my credit activity. That was it!

Requesting a 90-day fraud alert can be done through any of the three major credit bureaus. I happened to use Equifax because I thought I would have to contact all three bureaus for three alerts so who I called first didn’t matter. However, I learned that once an alert is placed with one bureau, it will notify the other two and the fraud alert will apply to all, which saves even more time and still didn’t cost anything.

Keep in mind that the whole process is fairly simple because it is an initial fraud alert tool. For extended fraud protection, you will need to provide more information and potentially a fee, depending on the desired protection service.

3. Protection doesn’t end with the alert.
Everyone is allowed one free copy of their credit report from each credit bureau once a year, which you can get via AnnualCreditReport.com. If you believe you are a fraud victim, you will be entitled to an additional free copy after placing your fraud alert. So if you’ve already requested your allotted three free reports for the year, the fraud alert is a great way to continue to monitor what’s going on in your credit file without having to pay anything extra.

I haven’t requested my three reports yet this year, so I’m not hurting for another free copy, but it’s nice to have the option. It will help me keep tabs on my credit activity even after my 90-day fraud alert expires.

In addition to the extra report, placing a fraud alert has given me direct access to other fraud victim resources just in case I need them later on. I’ve also received follow-up emails from the bureau with links to further documents and contact information for experts so I have options if this situation develops and someone tries to steal my identity.

Knowing and having what I do now, I feel less helpless than before. Fingers crossed it all ends here and I am just well-prepared.

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