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February 10, 2020

How Quickly Do Free Credit Monitoring Services Alert You When Someone Accesses Your Credit Report?

Filed under: Finance,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:08 am

Like many people, MrConsumer has had a variety of ID theft notification services that have been offered by various companies that have experienced a data breach. He has also signed up for some from financial websites that offer credit monitoring as a free benefit. All these plans are supposed to be an early warning system to alert you when someone applies for credit in your name or when there are major changes to your credit report. If it was a crook and not you, a quick call could stop that new credit line from being opened.

On January 6, a little before 1 PM, I applied for a new credit card. I got an email confirmation of my application from the bank at 12:58 PM and received almost instant approval. Seconds after that, also at 12:58 PM, I received an email from Experian entitled, “Alert: Change to your credit file detected, Edgar.” It alerted me that a bank/credit card inquiry had been made on my account. Wow! How is that for being on the ball? However, it wasn’t until 24 days later that I received an alert from them that a new trade line (account) had been opened and added to my credit report. This service from Experian is called CreditWorks Basic, and it only monitors activity on Experian credit reports and not the other two credit reporting agencies — Equifax and Trans Union.

But what about all the other ID theft notification services I had subscribed to? How fast did I receive alerts from them?


Credit Monitoring chart

Experian’s other service offered to AAA members didn’t notify me of the credit application until the next day, and CapitalOne took three days. Worse, none of the other services ever let me know that someone (me) was applying for credit. Why is that?

We asked an Experian executive and found out that credit bureaus don’t generally share inquiries made by lenders with their competitors. In other words, if you apply for a credit card and the card issuer gets your credit report from Experian, Experian doesn’t share that information with Trans Union or Equifax.

If you don’t happen to have a credit monitoring service that explicitly watches the credit bureau which was contacted for a copy of your credit report by the lender, you are likely to never get a notice that someone has accessed your file. Yikes! If your monitoring plan is connected to the bureau from which your credit file was pulled, you will likely get an instant notification. So had my new credit card company asked Trans Union or Equifax for my credit file rather than Experian, services that monitor those companies would also have notified me either immediately or very soon after my application.

Now how come all the monitoring services took about a month to notify me that a new credit account had been added to my credit file? It is common practice in the industry for credit grantors to only let the credit bureaus know of a new account after the first statement is rendered. And that is typically close to a month after the account was actually opened.

So, what does all this mean for you? The best protection against anyone applying for credit in your name is to lock or freeze your credit file at all three credit reporting agencies. But if you want an early warning whenever anyone, including yourself, applies for credit in your name, you need all three bureaus to be monitored with one service (a three-bureau report) or a combination of ID theft protection services.

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  1. I have been using Lifelock for the last 4 years. I get notifications of a new credit applications within hours of me applying for a new loan. They have also given me alerts of dark web activity that Experian did not.

    Comment by Mark — February 10, 2020 @ 8:05 am
  2. I had Lifelock a number of years ago- thought it would be great due to all the advertising. I bought a house (mortgage) and a car (auto loan) within a relatively short period of time and never heard a peep from them. A while later I decided this didn’t seem right, so I called to talk to them. All they could tell me was they knew it was me so didn’t send out any notifications or ask me for any verification. Couldn’t tell me how or anything else, just that they knew. I cancelled and never looked back. Hope they are better now.

    Comment by Adam — February 10, 2020 @ 9:32 am
  3. Quoting you “you need all three bureaus to be monitored with one service (a three-bureau report) or a combination of ID theft protection services.” Why didn’t you make a suggestion or two of which service(s) this/these might be?

    Edgar replies: The chart above shows you most of the free services along with which credit bureau(s) they monitor in parenthesis. Just pick the ones you want from the list. There are no free three-bureau services, as far as I know. However, if you signed up for the recent Equifax settlement, that will give you three-bureau coverage for free for at least four years.

    Comment by Patricia Dankert — February 10, 2020 @ 11:25 am
  4. Related:

    I have alerts set on my credit cards for anything over $x.xx and the notice time differs there, too. BoA, 1 or 2 days; Credit union, 1 day; Chase, within minutes.

    Because of the difference I use the Chase card as my primary.

    Comment by BobF — February 10, 2020 @ 2:20 pm
  5. As a victim of ID theft, I received a new credit card in the mail from a major bank that I did not apply for. I’m not sure how smart this thief was, as it was sent to my home address. I called the bank, they were very helpful and immediately canceled the card and sent me a packet about ID theft. I checked the 3 credit bureau(and now I think there is a 4th credit bureau that many folks do not know about) and none of the 3 even had any record of this account being opened, despite the fact I had this new card in my possession and could have used it. For the record, the 4th bureau is called Innovis. They do not handle credit scores.

    Comment by Tim B. — February 13, 2020 @ 12:35 am

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