Should you apply a credit freeze to your accounts, a fraud alert, or both? To make the right choice for you, you must understand how each one operates and how it effects your accounts.
 
A fraud alert requires that any lenders or creditors take reasonable steps to verify your identity before issuing new credit in your name. You certainly don’t have to be a victim of fraud to initiate a fraud alert. Rather, you can use this as a protective measure. A fraud alert lasts for 90 days; however, you can extend this. If you are a victim of identify theft and have filed the appropriate report, you can extend the fraud report for up to seven years.
 
To place a free fraud alert, contact one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) either online or by phone. The bureau that you contact is required to share the information with the other two bureaus. You can still open new accounts during a fraud alert as long as you provide suitable proof of your identity.
 
Compared to a fraud alert, a credit freeze offers more extensive protection. With a credit freeze, potential new creditors cannot access your credit report at all; therefore, they will not issue credit in your name. In most states a credit freeze is indefinite, but some states allow the freeze to expire after 7 years.
 
You cannot open any new accounts during the credit freeze nor can anyone access your credit report (including you). You must lift the freeze prior to applying for new credit. It is possible to re-establish the credit freeze, or to specify a period during which it should temporarily be lifted. Neither a credit freeze nor a fraud alert affects your current accounts; they only concern the opening of new lines of credit.
 
Use these tools in whatever way best fits your situation and comfort level, but make sure you understand how to use these tools, before you do, to avoid any credit surprises.
 
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