You can never be too careful when it comes to safeguarding your personal information. Identity theft is one of the top three fraud categories according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). There were 1.4 million fraud reports and $1.48 billion in losses in 2018, and it’s going up year-after-year. According to FTC’s statistics, younger people are reported losing money to fraud more often than older people. However, the loss for people aged 70+ was much higher.
There are a number of ways to help safeguard your personal information, and #1 is by freezing or locking your credit. There are differences in the two solutions. When you do a credit freeze, it is governed by federal law in most states, where credit locking is not. As governed, a credit freeze has more protections guaranteed by law that could give you more rights if fraud occurs. It is important to note, a credit freeze not only helps protect you from identity theft, but also data breaches and allowing anyone to gain access to your credit reports.
A credit freeze locks down your credit, but it does not affect your credit score nor prevent you from getting your free annual credit reports. It merely gives you control over how a U.S. consumer reporting agency, namely the six largest listed below, is able to sell your data for the creation of a new account with your identity. You will, however, need to continue to monitor all of your “existing” bank, credit card and insurance reports for any discrepancies.
Lastly, you can lift a credit freeze temporarily or permanently. For instance if you are applying for credit, a job or mortgage, you will need to allow access to your credit reports; hence the lift.
To freeze your credit, follow these step-by-step instructions.
To ensure there are no discrepancies or misuse of your identity, obtain your free credit report from Equifax either online or by completing and mailing a Request Form. You will have to provide your name, address, birth date, social security number and other personal information.
- Online: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action
- Request Form: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/manualRequestForm.action
Once you have verified your credit report is in good order, submit a credit freeze with the three largest credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It is very important to properly store the PIN numbers provided to you by each one. You will need them to un-freeze your credit temporarily or permanently.
Submit a freeze request to other smaller credit bureaus.
A credit freeze does not stop prescreened credit offers. To stop them, go to https://www.optoutprescreen.com/ or call 888-567-8688 to Opt-Out of unsolicited credit and insurance offers for five years or permanently. Caveat, there are companies that send solicitations without prescreening and, as a result, your federal opt-out right will not stop them.
Upon confirmation from all six credit bureaus listed above that a freeze has been placed on your credit, go back to https://www.annualcreditreport.com and request your free credit report from Experian. It should show it is frozen when you run it. Then, in approximately three months, repeat the process for TransUnion. Note you are permitted one free credit report from each of these three credit bureaus on an annual basis.
Repeat this process for every member of your family. Don’t forget to document the PIN information.
To protect yourself from identity theft, you should regularly monitor your credit reports and financial statements, freeze or lock your credit, safe guard your social security number, use unique usernames and strong passwords, limit how much information you share anywhere, watch your mail (stolen mail is one of the easiest paths to stolen identity), shred documents with personal information and password protect computers and mobile devices.