Your identity is priceless. That’s why so many people are hacking, breaching, phishing, and trying to steal your information. The last thing you want is to wake up and find your bank accounts empty, your credit cards maxed out, and/or the police knocking on your door.
A highly recommended strategy to foil identity thieves is freezing your credit. Once it’s frozen you are in complete control. Access to your credit files is restricted and even if cyber-criminals obtain your information, they can’t open new accounts or borrow money in your name.
In the past, there has always been a cost to freeze your credit, and another fee to thaw your files. Now, the federal government requires credit reporting agencies to freeze and unfreeze your credit free of charge.
Credit bureaus house records of your accounts and payment history, which credit card companies and lenders use to decide whether you are likely to pay your bills. If you freeze your file, the bureaus will not provide information to lenders unless you unfreeze your information by using a special personal identification number.
While freezing your credit is highly recommended, it will require some work on your part. You’ll have to places individual freezes at all three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, and you’ll have to keep track of three separate PIN numbers. And because it’s not always possible to know in advance what credit bureau a lender will use, you’ll have to thaw your information at all three bureaus when you want to apply for any new credit.
There is a fourth reporting agency, not as widely known, that requires its own freeze. The National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange provides credit information to some cellphone, pay-television, and utility companies. There have been reports of mobile phone accounts being opened even though freezes had been placed on credit reports at the three main credit reporting agencies.
Good news for parents. The new federal law also requires credit bureaus to allow parents to create and freeze credit files for their children under 16, to prevent their identities from being misused. The Federal Trade Commission offers information about what to do.
Be aware, credit freezes won’t protect you from someone using the number of a credit card you already have and it can’t stop someone from impersonating you online to claim your Social Security benefits. To help prevent those types of theft, check your credit card statements regularly for suspicious charges and activity.
To monitor your Social Security, set up a my Social Security account. Once you’ve established it, no one else can set up an account using your social security number and can’t make any changes to your information or your benefits.
It’s a good idea to check your credit report regularly. You are entitled to one free copy each year from the three primary reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com. And even if you have credit freezes in place, the Federal Trade Commission says a security freeze does not prevent you from getting your free annual report.
Here are the websites to visit to set up security freezes:
National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange: www.nctue.com/Consumers