Identity theft. These words summon feelings of fear, anger and helplessness. We have all heard stories of the time and money spent trying to restore ruined reputations. We think, “Could it happen to me?” For some of us, freezing our credit reports can be a good way to protect us from identity theft. For aging parents, freezing access to credit may also help prevent financial abuse.
We know and practice these basic behaviors to protect our identity:
- We leave our Social Security cards at home.
- We use only secured sites on the Internet to transact financial business.
- We shred documents that have identifying information before we trash them.
- We have our bills sent electronically, or carefully watch for our statements in the mail.
- We opt out of pre-approved credit and insurance offers through www.optoutprescreen.com.
- We obtain our credit reports annually from all three major credit bureaus to check for errors and unauthorized accounts.
But is it enough?
Another reliable way to avoid identity theft is to put a security freeze on your credit file.
This action prevents anyone, including yourself, from obtaining new credit in your name while the freeze is in effect. A security freeze is not always the best choice and it can be inconvenient. But if you are a victim of identity theft or believe yourself to be at increased risk, freezing your file as a precaution can provide protection and peace of mind.
Things to consider before you place a lock on your credit file:
- A freeze does not expire until you remove it.
- A freeze does not stop you from getting new credit or other services.
- A freeze does not affect your credit score.
- A freeze provides much greater protection than a fraud alert. It also provides great protection and costs less than a credit report monitoring service.
- A freeze is only effective if you activate it by mail at all three credit reporting agencies.
- A fee is charged for each spouse’s file at each of the three agencies.
- A fee is charged each time you lift the freeze and to permanently remove it.
- A security freeze can take up to three business days to be lifted, delaying your credit application or other transactions.
- A freeze does not prevent fraud involving your existing bank or credit accounts.
How do I place a security freeze on my credit file?
To place a security freeze, you must contact each of the three credit reporting agencies. Upon completion of your request, you will receive a confirmation letter a password or PIN. You will need this information to temporarily lift or permanently remove the freeze. You can contact the credit reporting agencies at the following number and websites:
Equifax: 888-298-0045 / www.equifax.com
Experian: 888-397-3742 / www.experian.com/consumer/securityfreeze.html
TransUnion: 888-909-8872 / www.transunion.com
A state-by-state list of security freeze laws is available at www.consumerunion.org or www.FinancialPrivacyNow.org. Procedures, along with the required information, materials, and fees vary depending on your state at the individual credit reporting agency.
A Word About Credit Reports
Don’t forget that you can access your credit reports for free three times a year through www.annualcreditreport.com. If you would like assistance in combing through your report or have questions about what it all means, call Lutheran Social Services Consumer Credit Counseling Service at 888-258-2227 to schedule a Credit Report Consultation.Together we can make a difference. Make a financial gift to LSS today.