If you've ever had your identity stolen, you know it can take months or even years to clean up the mess. Identity theft victims are left with credit reports that often contain notations of missed payments, multiple applications for new accounts, and even criminal activity.
If you're the victim of identity theft, one of the first things you should do is file a fraud alert with one of the three national credit bureaus. You only need to file a fraud alert with one company, and the other two will be contacted automatically. You can reach Equifax at 1-800-525-6285, Experian at 1-888-EXPERIAN, and TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289.
You can request that only the last four digits of your social security number appear on your credit report in the future. You should always review your credit report for inquiries from companies you never personally contacted and accounts you never opened.
There are two different types of fraud alerts that can be placed on your credit report. An initial alert stays on your credit report for just 90 days. People who have had their wallets stolen or who believe they've been victims of online "phishing scams" often place initial fraud alerts on their credit reports. The other type of fraud alert, an extended alert, is generally used by people who have already been victims of identity theft. This type of alert stays on your credit report for seven years.