Among the weapons you have at your disposal to use against the threat of identity theft and credit fraud are the credit alert (also called a fraud alert) and the credit freeze. They are somewhat similar, but can be distinguished in several respects.
1. What do a credit alert and a credit freeze do?
When you create a credit alert, anyone who checks your credit report will be put on notice that you have been a victim of identity theft or are concerned that you have been or will be. It’s your way of telling potential creditors that if someone claiming to be you asks them for credit, they need to be extra cautious in dealing with them because they may not be you at all but someone who has stolen your identity.
When you put a freeze on your credit, you are blocking potential creditors from having access to your credit report at all, unless you give them a special PIN number. So if someone other than you seeks credit from them in your name, they will not be able to get it (unless they somehow obtained that PIN number), because when the potential creditor seeks access to your credit report, it will be blocked from seeing it and will therefore surely not extend the credit.
A credit freeze, then, goes a little farther than a credit alert, and makes it even harder for someone to fraudulently get credit in your name. Instead of merely cautioning potential creditors to be careful about extending credit in your name, you are blocking them from the information they need in order to do so.
2. How do you initiate a credit alert and a credit freeze?
There are three main credit bureaus that issue credit reports: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. In order to put a credit alert in place, you request it from any one of the three bureaus, and they then notify the other two. In order to put a credit freeze in place, you must request it from each of the three bureaus separately.
3. How much do a credit alert and a credit freeze cost?
You do not have to pay anything for a credit alert. The cost of a credit freeze varies according to state law, but generally it costs $10 for each credit bureau, plus you have to pay another $10 when you want the freeze lifted, including temporarily.
4. How are your existing creditors affected by a credit alert and a credit freeze?
A credit alert is issued to any of your existing creditors that seek access to your credit report the same as it would be to a potential creditor. However, a credit freeze does not apply to your existing creditors. They still have access to your credit report, even as potential creditors are blocked from it.
5. Does a credit alert or a credit freeze entitle you to additional credit reports?
Federal law requires that you be allowed one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. (State law may allow you more.) When you initiate a credit alert, this entitles you to one additional free credit report from each of the bureaus. When it is the extended version of a credit alert (see below), this entitles you to three additional free credit reports per year from each of the bureaus.
A credit freeze does not entitle you to additional free credit reports.
6. How long do a credit alert and a credit freeze last?
A standard credit alert remains in effect for three months. You can request it anew every three months for as long as you want it to remain in place. Your other option is to request a seven year rather than three month credit alert. But for this extended credit alert, you need to provide a police report or other official records showing that you have been a victim of identity theft.
A credit freeze remains in place indefinitely, until you notify the credit bureaus to lift it (and pay the necessary fee to do so).
Both a credit alert and a credit freeze can be effective means to protect yourself if you are, or are concerned you might be, a victim of identity theft. Of the two, the credit freeze goes a little farther to block someone from fraudulently getting credit in your name.
Kimberly Lankford, “Fraud Alert vs. Credit Freeze.” Kiplinger.
“Defend: Recover from Identity Theft.” FTC.gov.