Fraud alert, freeze or lock after Equifax? FAQs

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After the Equifax breach, some people are considering placing a fraud alert on their credit file. Others will freeze or lock their credit files to help prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts in their name. Here are some FAQs to help you decide what’s best for you.        

Fraud Alert
  • What is it? A fraud alert requires companies to verify your identity before extending new credit. Usually that means calling you to check if you’re really trying to open a new account.
  • How does it work? The process is easy – you contact any one of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) and that one must notify the other two.
  • How long does it last? An initial fraud alerts last 90 days. After 90 days, you can renew your alert for an additional 90 days, as many times as you want. Military who deploy can get an active duty alert that lasts one year, renewable for the period of deployment. Identity theft victims (whose information has been misused, not just exposed in a breach) are entitled to an extended fraud alert, which lasts seven years.
  • How much does it cost? Fraud alerts are free.
  • Is this for me? With a fraud alert, you keep access to your credit and federal law protects you. But an initial fraud alert lasts only 90 days and then you’ll need to remind yourself to renew it every 90 days.   
 
Credit Freeze
  • What is it? A credit freeze limits access to your credit file so no one, including you, can open new accounts until the freeze is lifted.
  • How does it work? To be fully protected, you must place a freeze with each of the three credit reporting agencies. Freezes can be placed by phone or online. You’ll get a PIN to use each time you freeze or unfreeze, which may take one to three business days.
  • How long does it last? A freeze lasts until you temporarily lift or permanently remove it (except in a few states where freezes expire after seven years).   
  • How much does it cost? Fees are set by state law. Generally, it costs $5 to $10 each time you freeze or unfreeze your account with each credit reporting agency. You can get a free freeze if you are an identity theft victim, or in some states, if you’re over age 62. Equifax is offering free freezes until June 30, 2018. 
  • Is this for me? Freezes are generally best for people who aren’t planning to take out new credit. Often, that includes older adults, people under guardianship, and children. People who want to avoid monthly fees also may prefer freezes over locks.    
 
Credit Lock
  • What is it? Like a freeze, a credit lock limits access to your credit file so no one, including you, can open new accounts until you unlock your credit file.
  • How does it work? Like a freeze, to be fully protected, you must place locks with all three credit reporting agencies. With locks, however, there’s no PIN and usually no wait to lock or unlock your credit file (although the current Equifax lock can take 24 to 48 hours). You can lock and unlock on a computer or mobile device through an app – but not with a phone call.
  • How long does it last? Locks last only as long as you have an ongoing lock agreement with each of the credit reporting agencies. In some cases, that means paying monthly fees to maintain your lock service.
  • How much does it cost? Credit reporting agencies can set and change lock fees at any time. As of today, Equifax offers free locks as part of its free post-breach credit monitoring. Experian and TransUnion may charge monthly fees, often about $20.  
  • Is this for me? Depending on your particular lock agreement, your fees and protections may change over time. So, if you sign up for a lock, it’s hard to be sure what your legal protections will be if something goes wrong later. Also, monthly lock fees can quickly exceed the cost of freezes, especially if the lock fees increase over time.

For more information about ways to protect your identity, check out Credit freeze FAQs, Fraud alert or credit freeze – which is right for you, and Free freezes from Equifax. Also, check out the FTC’s resource page about the Equifax data breach. And if your personal information is misused, visit IdentityTheft.gov to report identity theft and get a personal recovery plan.

Note: This post was updated on February 1, 2018 to reflect that Equifax extended the enrollment period for free credit freezes from January 31, 2018 to June 30, 2018.

Initial fraud alerts, credit freezes, and credit locks:

What’s the difference?

What you should know about

Initial fraud alerts

Credit freezes

Credit locks

Purpose Verify your identity before extending new credit

Restricts access to credit file to prevent identity theft

Legal protections

Based on federal law (Fair Credit Reporting Act) Based on state law

Based on consumer’s lock agreement with each credit reporting agency (CRA)

Varies by CRA & may change over time

Fees Free
  • Free from Equifax until January 31, 2018
  • Free for id theft victims & in some states free for people over age 62
  • Otherwise, $5-$10 per credit reporting agency (CRA) each time you freeze or unfreeze
  • Free from Equifax, as part of free credit monitoring service
  • Otherwise, CRAs may charge monthly fees
  • Monthly fees may change
Links Place a fraud alert with any one of the three:
Place a credit freeze with all three:
Place a credit lock with all three:

Turning them on and off

A fraud alert:
  • Lasts 90 days
  • Can be renewed for free for an additional 90 days, as many times as you want
To freeze or unfreeze:
  • Online or by phone
  • Requires a PIN
To lock or unlock:
  • Online only
  • No PIN required

Downloadable PDF version

 

Comments

My husband and I have had a credit freeze for more than 10 years. We have not had any problems with it. A benefit of the freeze is that you don't get any more credit card offers in the mail. Before the freeze we got several a week. We just purchased a new home and have previously purchased new vehicles and have had no problem with those either. I have also helped many of my neighbors freeze theirs and they have had no problems either

You probably already did this, but can you list the credit reporting companies names, with addresses and correct telephone numbers?When the breach happened, I found/called many different numbers for each and it was confusing because they have different services in each company, and I kept being told to call another department.Also isn' there a 4th credit reporting agency?

The colorful infographic on this page has links that go directly to the pages to set a fraud alert, credit freeze or lock at Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.  After you read the blog and know whether you want to set a fraud alert, credit freeze or lock, you can click on related link.

Here are telephone numbers for the three main credit reporting companies:

I thank you for putting the fraud alert on my credit report,because the neighbor took some mail out of my mail box.how ever may I just have the credit alet free and not the monthly report.cause I cannot afford it monthly.

The FTC did not put a fraud alert on your credit report. The FTC does not have access to your credit report.

Thank you - great update.

Thanks for this concise summary. We put freezes on our accounts at all 3 major and the fourth Pennsylvania credit reporting agencies. What I don't understand is why placing a fraud alert with one company compels that company to contact the other companies and thus create that fraud alert at those companies, yet placing a freeze or a lock must be done at each company. I can't see a scenario where placing a freeze at one CRA would be beneficial to the consumer. I.E., if one feels the need for a freeze, or lock, then presumably they would want that on ALL of their credit files, at each agency. it was a hassle, and keeping the correct contacts and PINs on record for each company is also a hassle. For instance, how do I know which agency a store/bank/credit card would use if I wanted to apply for credit there? I will have to go and lift my freeze at FOUR companies to be certain that when I made my transaction, it would go through, and then I'd have to go back to each of those four agencies to reinstate the freeze. They all insist on using our Social Security numbers as the primary identifying factor, so they should all have to work in unison when the person associated with that SS number wants action.

What are we to do if they sent us a letter that came from Equifax? I have never been to their site nor any of the above listed, so why would I be receiving a letter from them? Any help I would greatly appreciate Thank you

If Equifax sent you a letter, it should explain what it means. Does the letter show a phone number you can call, or email where you can send a message?

Why no direct action by the FTC, e.g. everyone was not notified by Equifax of data breach...what percentage of those that "inquired on the site" out of the total number that had a breach? Why or does that apparently count as being notified but it is the consumer that initiated the action? Who enforces the "freezes?" The same entity that allowed access...why is that a freeze if not enforced by a third party? What else can FTC do proactively? Thanks!

If someone opened a new account in your name after you placed freezes on your credit files at all three credit reporting companies, please report that to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint. You may also submit a complaint about a credit reporting company to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Let me try again...can we have a little more focus in your postings? I repeat...
Why no direct action by the FTC, e.g. everyone was not notified by Equifax of data breach...what percentage of those that "inquired on the site" out of the total number that had a breach? Why or does that apparently count as being notified but it is the consumer that initiated the action? Who enforces the "freezes?" The same entity that allowed access...why is that a freeze if not enforced by a third party? What else can FTC do proactively? Thanks!

My identity was stolen I need to put freeze on all my information

I am concerned about the lock. It sounds like it could easily change and cost a fortune. But more concerned that there is no PIN required. If I was a victim of the Equifax or another data breach, would the ID thief already know all of the info needed to unlock my credit?

Doesn’t placing a credit freeze disqualifies you for a class action lawsuit? Thanks

It at times looks like someone is operating my phone other than me. Also giving me at times bad information. Also controlling my TV set at will. One thing I do know these aren't ordinary people that are doing these things. Anyway I would like your opinion on this issue. Lawedw . Thank you kindly!

You could look for information from your phone's manufacturer about how to check the phone for viruses or software problems that are affecting the performance.

Florida has the highest per capital Fraud rating of any state. I went to dinner at a restaurant, paid my bill via credit card and left The very next day I received a call from my credit card company asking me if I ordered $500.00 in toys from nearby toy store. I assumed someone photographed my credit card and used it to make the illegal transaction. I placed a Credit Freeze on my account until things were settled down and appreciated the fact I had the option.

Don't forget *INNOVIS*, the smaller 4th credit reporting agency. It always seems to be overlooked in these articles. innovis. com/ personal/ securityFreeze

My boyfriend very sneaky, lier wanted and pushing me to open a business account on my name in a different bank.He took my business card and overdraw all the time. I had to cover the loss. I did not open an account and did not give him bank card,,so he broke up with me and found another woman who soon will be a victim too.

thank you

For six months I tried, several times a week, to initiate a fraud alert by way of Equifax's web site. Every time, I received a message saying "our site is not currently available for this." Finally gave up and initiated fraud alert via TransUnion. Results were instantaneous. Experian sent U.S. Mail notice of fraud alert set-up on my account with them, as per the request they received from TransUnion. NOTHING yet from Equifax. Total losers !

I had my identity stolen and income tax was file by the criminal. I had to etc all there bureaus and all my credit card companys and add passwords to all my accounts. Its unbelievable what people do. I just don't trust anymore.

Attempts to file tax returns and open credit cards using my information were reported to the FTC, FBI and several law enforcement agencies the only help I got was from Lifelock and a credit freeze. Before you pay for a freeze check state laws where you live. Missouri doesn't allow fees to be charged for identity theft victims but all three credit bureaus tried to charge me. I had to prove it to them before they waived the fees.

GOOD INFO...I've noticed when reading through all these comments...not too many questions were answered by an appropriate rep yet I saw a lot of questions. Also saw rep responding to nonsense comments, go figure. In this world hard to trust ANYONE, even the ones that CLAIM to be here to help when something goes wrong. THANK YOU for sharing this and reminding us of the shady people out here...people AND COMPANIES!!

Question: Do you need to be a victim of identity theft and send a police report of the incident/s to obtain an extension on a fraud alert for an additional 90 days and then do you need to request again with another different police report for every 90-days thereafter? Question 2a: Is a police report only needed if you are requesting the extended-7-year fraud alert? Question 2b: Is a different, new police report needed for every 7-year fraud alert?

If you are a victim of identity theft, you can report it at IdentityTheft.gov. You will create an “Identity Theft Report,” which is your official statement about the crime. In most situations, you can use your Identity Theft Report in place of a police report to clear your account and credit records of transactions that resulted from the identity theft.

A fraud alert requires companies to verify your identity before extending new credit. Usually that means the companies call you to ask if you are truly trying to open a new account.

You do not need to be a victim of identity theft or send any reports to place a fraud alert. An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days. After 90 days, you can renew the alert for an additional 90 days. You can renew the alert as many times as you want.

Read about extended fraud alerts and credit freezes. You must include a copy of your Identity Theft Report when you place an extended fraud alert.

Let's summarize some of the postings to date: No specific FTC response/reply to requests to FTC for action on its part. Why is this blog here? Merely to vent ones problems? Try a different track...delete the blog OR get a life and do something proactive! Please send this entire thread to the entire commission...can "you" at least do that? Regards!

I have a credit alert on my file (I don't remember putting there). I'm trying to make a purchase and I can't lift the alert. Who can I call

If you have a fraud alert on your credit report, you have access to your credit. If you have an alert and you want to open a new account, a company will call you and double check to make sure it really is YOU that wants to open the new account. 

But if you have a credit freeze on your credit record at a credit reporting agency, no one, not even you, can open new accounts until the freeze is lifted. You would have placed the freeze with one, two or all three credit reporting companies and might have paid a fee. To lift the freeze, contact the credit reporting company where you placed the freeze.

What were the repercussions towards Equifax after this happened?

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