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:   https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/identity-theft 

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.  Using a source like Credit Karma can help you monitor your credit score for potential problems.

It turns out you DO have a very important and FREE ID Theft prevention tool in your toolbox – if you choose to use it.  It is called a Security Freeze/Credit Freeze.  As of September 21, 2018, nationwide and at no cost, you can freeze your credit report at all three credit bureaus (and unfreeze for free as needed).  You will also be able to freeze credit reports for your children who are under 16. And if you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can freeze the credit reports for that person too.  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/09/free-credit-freezes-are-here

Freezing your credit file prevents someone else from pulling your credit report and makes it difficult for them to open NEW credit in your name.  The most difficult type of ID Theft to clean up is when an ID Thief opens new credit in your name and then misuses those accounts.  A security freeze puts a lock on your credit report so that in order to open new credit, you have to temporarily unlock your report.  Sounds inconvenient right? Turns out this is not the case at all.  If you request a freeze online or by phone, the agency must place the freeze within one business day. If you request a lift of the freeze, the agency must lift it within one hour. If you make your request by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days after receiving your request.

To place a freeze on your credit reports, contact all three of the national credit reporting agenciesEquifax, Experian, and TransUnion.   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.  BEWARE  – The credit bureau websites may discourage you from freezing your credit reports by emphasizing the delay associated with unfreezing your report; REALLY? –  an hour delay at the most is unlikely to create problems on most credit purchases.  Most people know when they will be applying for credit and can unlock their report in advance.  Spur of the moment opening of credit accounts is not usually in your best interest anyway….

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 freeze and unfreeze your credit report a few times a year rather than pay for other types of protective services.

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