Under the law, the credit reporting agencies have to offer a fraud alert that can be placed on your account to alert potential lenders that your account data may be compromised. Experian offers a FREE 90-day credit fraud alert that can be placed on your account, if you feel your data may have been compromised:
Credit FraudYou can add a fraud alert message to your credit report to help protect your credit information. Fraud alert messages notify potential credit grantors to verify your identification before extending credit in your name in case someone is using your information without your consent. We recommend that you review a copy of your personal credit report. If you believe that information in your credit report is inaccurate due to identity theft or fraud, contact us at the phone number on your report for assistance from a representative specially trained in consumer credit fraud.
A bonus of having this alert added to your account (which is FREE) is that they display your credit report (for free, under the law) which you can then print out and save. I am pleased to report that my report shows no suspicious activity at this time.
Transunion offers three kinds of fraud alerts - for 90 days, seven years, or military active duty (Experian might have the same options, but I could not find them on their website). You have to set up a userID and password on their site - which you should already have, if you ran your really free annual credit report.
For both sites, you can provide a phone number for creditors to contact you, before they issue credit in your name. The fraud alert puts them on notice not to issue credit to anyone unless they confirm identity first.
Placing the fraud alert allows you to receive a free copy of your credit report. Of course, both sites will try to up-sell you credit scores, credit monitoring, or other services. Leave your credit card in your wallet and don't bother signing up for these services.
Equifax also offers the 90-day credit fraud alert (again, they are required to do this, under the law) as well as an active duty alert.
Equifax also notes that they send their fraud alert data to the other two reporting agencies, so you don't have to do all three (apparently). However, this might not get you the free copies of the credit reports.
No More Work For YouYour request to place an initial 90 day fraud alert or an active duty alert on your credit file will be sent directly to both Experian and TransUnion so you don’t have to contact them separately. If you do not receive notification within 7 business days that they have added an alert to your credit file, you may want to contact them directly:
TransUnion, PO Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634: (800) 680-7289Experian, PO Box 9530, Allen, TX 75013: (800) 379-3742
Additional Alert RequestYou may request another initial 90 day fraud alert or active duty alert by submitting a new request within 30 days of your current alert expiring.
Thank you for giving Equifax the opportunity to assist you
I could not find a link on Equifax to get a free copy of the credit report very easily. You have to go back to the main page and navigate to this page, where they have free credit reports. However, as has happen before, Equifax claims they cannot display the report, so you have to call their 1-800 number to get the report. I called the number, and the automated service recording says the report was already sent. This is not the first time this has happened with Equifax. Bummer Equifax!
So do these fraud alerts do anything? Some folks argue that many lenders don't bother to look at fraud alerts or confirm identity of borrowers in any event. Others argue that these alerts are a free back-door way of protecting your credit - by initiating an alert every 90 days (I am not sure that is a good idea). It is a good way to get a copy of your credit report (from everyone except Equifax, that is, who is apparently violating the law with the classic, "What? My Bad!" approach.)
On the other hand, paying money for a credit monitoring service, as others have noted, is just as worthless.