Every week it seems like I read something about a security breach, whether it is a bank, government entity, store, university or hospital. The possibilities of a breach are endless. Criminals are grabbing sensitive information such as account information and social security numbers to commit fraud. The topic comes up frequently in my classes about credit. People want to know how they can protect themselves if they are part of a security breach.
The standard recommendation is to add a fraud alert to your credit report. This is a notation on the credit report notifying anyone looking at the credit report that there is a possibility of identity theft. The identity of the person requesting credit should be scrutinized and confirmed. I am not a firm believer in relying on a fraud alert as a sound protection from identity theft. The reality is it does not stop anything. It is simply a cautionary notice. Place the fraud alert, but don’t rely on it as your only action.
The better approach is to consider a security freeze as a protection. It denies access to your credit report. When a freeze is added to your credit report, all third parties inquiries, such as lenders or other companies, whose use is not exempt under law (FBI, IRS, CIA, etc.) will not be able to access your credit report without your consent. You must grant access with the password you receive from the individual credit bureaus to access your credit report. A security freeze is more beneficial than a fraud alert because it actually stops access to your credit report without your permission. It is available to ID theft victims with a police report and non-victims who have no police report for a specific incident, but wish to protect themselves.
You need to go to each credit bureau individually to institute a freeze:
- TransUnion Security Freeze Information
- Experian Security Freeze Information
- Equifax Security Freeze Information
If the links change just go into each credit bureau website and search the term “security freeze.”
The reason I like the security freeze is because if someone has your social security number and tries to apply for credit, a creditor will not be able to access your credit report. Therefore credit will likely be denied. No credit report should mean no credit approval. You should still check your credit report annually to make sure there are no issues. The security freeze will not prevent someone from using your credit card if your account number is stolen. Remain on guard and realize the freeze will only prevent new accounts from being opened in your name. Existing accounts are still susceptible to potential fraud.
Is the security freeze perfect?
It may cause inconvenience getting new loans, credit, mortgages, insurance, rental housing, employment, investments, licenses, cellular phone service, utility service, digital signature service, and extension of credit at point of sale. Anything that requires accessing your credit report.
Additionally, while your report is frozen, companies that provide consumer data to the credit bureaus will not be allowed to update name, address, social security number and date of birth information on your credit report. If there are any changes made to your name or address while your file is frozen, you must notify the credit bureaus directly so that they can update your personal information.
As a method of protection the security freeze is a way to lock up your credit report. The cost is generally free if you have a police report or a $5 – $10 onetime fee if you do not. This is a state law issue, so the requirements vary by the state you live in.
A security freeze is the best protection. It is inexpensive, but only one means of protection. You still need to be alert to what is going on with your credit report. Your social security number could be used for something not credit related such as employment or filing taxes in your name to steal your refund. Protecting your credit is only one part of your defense against identity theft.
A security freeze is good for:
- Preventing new credit accounts opened in your name.
- Preventing new relationships that require a credit report, such as renting a property, credit report background check for employment, opening bank accounts, etc.
- Peace of mind, it generally stops the worst kind of identity theft: a fraudulent account opened in your name that you have no clue about.
A security freeze is NOT good for:
- Identity theft not credit report related. The freeze is only preventing unauthorized access to your report by third parties you do not already have a relationship with. It is not a catch all solution for every type of crime against your social security number.
- Protection of your current accounts.
- Protection of your credit or debit cards from fraudulent use.
Do not rely on a security freeze to protect you from everything, because it can’t. It is only one piece of protection you can use. Much like locking your home, setting a burglar alarm, turning on outside lights at night, not letting newspapers pile up in your driveway or posting on social media when you are going to be out of town. It takes numerous protections to keep yourself safe.
It appears that the potential inconveniences of a security freeze are outweighed by the advantages, but that is for you to decide.
About the Author: Patrick Ritchie loves teaching about credit; he is the author of The Credit Road Trip and The Credit Road Map series of books. Check out his free online classes at www.CreditLiteracyProject.com.
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