A fraud alert is a warning that you can place on your credit report by contacting the three major credit bureaus. It signals to potential creditors that you may be, or are at risk of being, a victim of identity theft. A fraud alert can take one of three forms—an initial alert, an extended alert and a military fraud alert:

Initial Fraud Alert — An initial alert lasts for at least 90 days. It is a precaution that can be taken in situations where you think you are at heightened risk for identity theft or that someone is currently stealing your identity, e.g., if your purse has been stolen. Placing an initial alert on your credit report requires potential creditors to use “reasonable policies and procedures” to confirm the legitimacy of your identity when it is used for credit applications. These “reasonable policies and procedures” may not always adequately protect you, however, so be sure to monitor your credit report carefully even if you’ve placed an initial fraud alert.

Extended Fraud Alert — An extended alert remains on your credit report for seven years. You are eligible to place this type of alert on your account if you have been the victim of identity theft and provide the credit bureaus with an identity theft report.

Active Duty Military Fraud Alert — An active duty alert helps protect military personnel from identity theft. If you are a member of the military and away from your usual duty station, you may place an “active duty alert” on your credit report to help minimize the risk of identity theft while you are deployed. If you place an active duty alert, businesses must verify your identity before issuing credit in your name, which makes it harder for identity thieves to use your information to apply for credit. Active duty alerts on your report last for one year unless you request that the alert be removed sooner. If your deployment lasts longer, you may place another alert on your report.