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With the holidays coming, shoppers both online and in brick-and-mortar stores can expect to see an increase in credit card fraud and identity theft. The sheer volume of online shopping that goes on between Cyber-Monday and a week or so before Christmas gives identity thieves and others who are up to no good a target-rich environment.
Crowded malls, stressed shoppers and busy sales clerks who are less vigilant about checking ID can contribute to increased credit card and identity theft in real-life shopping locations. What can you do to protect yourself during the holiday season? And, what can you do if you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft?
If you’ve had your wallet lost or stolen or had your personal data compromised on your computer, the first thing to do is call your bank and credit card companies and cancel all your cards. You should have the phone numbers to report credit card fraud written someplace convenient to access and separate from the cards.
But you can also put an identity fraud alert on your credit file. What is an identity fraud alert, what does it do, and how do you put one on your credit files?
What Is An Identity Fraud Alert?
An identity fraud alert is exactly what its name says: it “alerts” lenders that your request for a loan or new credit may not be from you — it could be from someone who has stolen your identity. Lenders will not be as quick to grant you new credit if there is an identity fraud alert on your credit report. You will have to be available at a pre-determined work or home phone number to approve new credit.
Keep in mind, an identity fraud alert will not affect your existing credit card accounts at all. It is important to cancel all your credit cards if you are a victim of identity theft or if you lose your wallet or purse with your credit cards inside.
When you put an identity fraud alert on your credit cards, your name will also be removed from pre-approved credit card and insurance offers for two years.
How Do You Put An Identity Fraud Alert On Your Credit File
Putting an Identity Fraud Alert on your credit files is easier than you may think. Simply contact the fraud departments for all three major credit bureaus:
Your Identity Fraud Alert should be activated within 24 hours, and you should receive a notice in the mail within a few weeks.
The Identity Fraud Alert lasts for 90 days. If you want to keep a permanent identity fraud alert on your files, you’ll need to renew it every three months.
If you have already been the victim of identity fraud, you can apply for a 7-year alert to be placed on your files.
An identity fraud alert is one way to put an extra layer of protection between your good name and credit score and would-be identity thieves.
However, if you don’t plan to apply for any new credit in the near future, you can also contact the fraud departments of the credit reporting agencies to put a “credit freeze” on your account. This freezes your credit file so that no one can pull the file for inquiries or to grant you new credit.
Again, this doesn’t protect someone from using your existing credit lines, so careful credit monitoring and being smart about your passwords and accounts is still necessary.
Here are five easy ways to monitor your own credit, during the holidays or at any time of year.