Sometimes, individuals must select a credit report fraud alert or freeze as the best solution for preventing credit fraud when they face real threats of identity theft due to business notification of their lost or stolen personal information, or, when they suspect they might become a victim of identity theft. In order to decide which identity prevention tool is the best solution for your situation, you need to fully understand the purpose, features, benefits, differences as well as placement and removal requirements of both the fraud alert and credit freeze.
Just in case you don’t have enough time to read this entire article but need to quickly learn about credit report fraud alerts and freeze, here’s a quick summary of what they are. A fraud alert can be placed on your credit report to notify creditors that any credit request to open new accounts or modify existing accounts under your name must be confirmed by you. This is to make sure that third parties, whether it’s a credit card company or a mortgage broker, validate your identity and ensure you are the person who has initiated the credit application.
Although, there is no guarantee third parties will contact you because you placed a fraud alert, it’s definitely a good way to limit your identity theft risks if you suspect you are at risk. On the other hand, when a credit or security freeze is placed on your credit report, creditors can't access your reports until you lift the freeze. And since creditors will not make any credit decisions without first looking at a credit report, credit freeze is definitely a better solution than fraud alert in our efforts to prevent identity theft
On the flip side, the placement and removal of credit freeze is much more time consuming than fraud alerts because it requires our direct and proactive involvement which may not be suitable for people who apply regularly for new credit accounts or modifications to existing credit accounts and who need a quick turnaround of their application. In some cases, it can take up to 3 business days to lift a credit freeze and it is also more expensive to place or remove a credit freeze. In summary, if you rarely apply for new credit or don't mind the wait or the cost, a credit freeze may be just for you.
For those who want the flexibility of a quick turnaround every time they want to buy something on credit, they should consider a fraud alert. A fraud alert provides limited protection against identity theft because we are somewhat at the mercy of third parties to contact us and validate the credit request, but it’s better than having no alert or freeze placed on the reports. It makes no sense why we need to place fraud alerts and remind businesses to be extra cautious when making credit decisions but that's probably because we are still at the infancy stage of identity theft protection.
In conclusion, if you rarely apply for credit and want total control over your credit reports, go with a credit report freeze. And, if you often apply for credit to buy things and want flexibility and quick turnaround with limited identity theft protection, consider a fraud alert instead. You can't go wrong with either a fraud alert or freeze for preventing credit identity theft since they are both better than having no protection at all.
To protect your existing accounts, you may also consider an account freeze if it is offered by your bank, phone company or other types of accounts. An account freeze will block any use of your existing accounts until you remove the freeze.
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