In an effort to alleviate growing concern over identity theft, more and more Americans are placing fraud alerts on credit records even before they have become a victim. Though placing a fraud alert may help lessen the chance for identity theft to occur, Europ Assistance USA, the professional ally for people in crisis or distress, advises concerned Americans to not rely on this as a means of preventing identity theft.
Approximately 15 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2006 according to a Gartner study done in coordination with the Identity Theft Resource Center. And the crime continues to grow specifically due to the increased use of the Internet and online records. Although proactive measures have become more commonplace in the last few years, as reported in 2004, victims still spent an average of 300 hours recovering from this crime, often over a period of several years.
Today, Americans are placing an increased number of proactive fraud alerts on credit records. Due to the fact that the fraud alerts are free of charge to anyone and can be placed repeatedly every 90 days, Americans perceive them to protect more than they do.
Myth: Fraud alerts are the premiere form of protection and prevention against identity theft.
Fact: The alert signals credit agencies to contact you to check that you placed an incoming credit application and that the application is in fact valid. Unfortunately, this is not a foolproof system of preventing new credit from being issued in your name. In fact, some credit issuers do not even see the fraud alert because they do not use credit reports prior to issuing credit. This step also does not prevent criminals from using your existing accounts to commit fraud.
Myth: Fraud alerts protect your credit records and accounts 100 percent of the time.
Fact: Due to the above stated circumstance, the Identity Theft Resource Center believes that proactive fraud alerts are effective only about 70 percent of the time.
Although placing a fraud alert is a proactive way to diminish the chance of identity theft, it is a relatively indirect method of completely preventing the crime for those who have been victims or those who are considerably concerned.
For those who have suffered from such crimes or are particularly worried, Europ Assistance USA recommends placing a credit freeze, or locking access to credit files, on your credit record. A much more complete solution, a credit freeze prevents any lines of credit from being issued -- a helping hand to those suffering from the crime or concerned that they may be at risk.
"A credit freeze is unmatchable to any other prevention method out there at this time. Fraud alerts are an important part of responding to an actual identity theft, but using them before any theft has occurred does not make a person immune to the crime," said Guillaume Deybach, president and CEO of Europ Assistance USA. "In our Gold level identity theft resolution program, customers can freeze and unfreeze their credit at any time free of charge."
Freezing your account and unfreezing it when needed for credit approval is a way to prevent damage to your credit and allows you to maintain control of your credit record and your identity. Although you may be prevented from obtaining instant credit, the reassurance of a higher level of security is a comfort to concerned Americans. When needed, credit reports can be thawed for specific periods of time and for specific companies to see, neither of which affects your credit score. Free for any victim, the service can cost those interested in proactive measures anywhere from $2-$20 for each freeze of unfreezing of a report.