Identity Theft Prevention: Should You Freeze Your Credit Reports?

young woman talking on a mobile phone and holding a credit cardUnless you live in a bubble, it is hard to totally prevent Identity theft.  After all, many entities other than you have your personal information –financial institutions, doctors, schools, etc.  The goal is to put measures in place that make it more difficult to steal your identity – so thieves go looking for an easier target.

Important prevention methods include: buying a good shredder and shredding anything with personal information before it gets tossed; keeping personal information out of your mailbox when possible; protecting account information and personal information in your possession –by locking it up at home; and carrying very little personal information with you if possible.  For other ideas, check out this website from the FTC:    http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/protecting-your-identity

Credit monitoring or other protection services don’t prevent ID Theft because they let you know AFTER the FACT that it has happened to you.  With a little planning and time – you can monitor your own credit reports and accounts for fraud FREE – right?   You can check your financial statements every month either online or by opening your mail.  And, you can order your free credit reports every 12 months, or alternate several times a year at http://annualcreditreport.com.

It turns out you probably DO have a very important ID Theft prevention tool in your toolbox – if you choose to use it.  It is called a Credit Freeze and/or Security Freeze.  In most states, including Missouri, you have the right to put a freeze on your credit report that prevents anyone from pulling your credit report to issue NEW credit.  The most difficult type of ID Theft to clean up is when someone opens new credit in your name and then misuses those accounts.

What a security freeze does  is put a lock on your credit report so that in order to open new credit, you have to temporarily unlock your report.  Sounds inconvenient right? – at least that is what the credit bureaus make it sound like on their websites (they warn it could take weeks to unfreeze your reports).  Turns out this is not usually the case at all. For example, under Missouri law, after the initial freeze on your credit report, if you call or email the credit bureau within normal business hours, to temporarily unfreeze your credit report, they have 15 minutes from receipt to comply with your request.  Other states appear to have similar requirements. For specific information about State Laws on the security freeze/credit freeze, visit the Consumers Union website:  http://consumersunion.org/research/consumers-unions-guide-to-security-freeze-protection/.

A security freeze DOES NOT prevent you from being able to pull your own credit reports at any time, nor does it prevent business entities you already have a relationship with (your mortgage, your credit cards, etc.) from being able to review your credit.

The average person opens one to two new credit accounts a year – so, if that is the case with you, it may be a much safer and cheaper option to pay to freeze and unfreeze your credit report a few times a year than pay for other types of protective services.

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