There are a lot of things consumers can do to fend off a thief stealing their personal information or, even worse, their identity. They include using safe credit card practices, reviewing monthly statements for accuracy and requesting bi-annual credit reports to look for signs of fraudulent activity.
For the majority of people, the proactive measures of overseeing and responsibly managing their credit accounts will keep the crooks at bay. But what do you do when you discover a questionable charge on a billing statement or an unauthorized account opened in your name on your credit report? The surest way to prevent more damage is to issue a security freeze.
A security freeze essentially eliminates the ability of potential creditors, insurance agents or employers to access your credit reports for any reason, including background checks and financial health. Most businesses will not open credit accounts without checking a consumer’s credit history first.
If a scammer has garnered enough personal information on you and attempts to use it to open an account in your name, a freeze will make the success of their efforts less likely. While there’s no guarantee on the effectiveness of a freeze, few creditors would even consider a loan without first reviewing the consumer’s credit reports.
While your accounts are frozen, you can request copies of your credit reports and your current creditors may still report account activity, both good and bad, to the credit reporting agencies. Government agencies may have access for child support, tax and investigative purposes. Government agencies may also have access in response to a court or administrative order, a subpoena, or a search warrant.
A freeze may be warranted in the following situations, if you:
- want complete control of your credit reports
- have concerns about unauthorized activity
- are a victim of ID theft or fraud
- have no need of additional credit
Initiating a Freeze
Only YOU can request a security freeze and have it removed or lifted. The three major credit reporting agencies, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax, have individual programs to freeze accounts that can be initiated by mailing the pertinent information to the designated addresses listed below. (TransUnion and Experian offer an online application to freeze your accounts.) Be prepared to provide copies of identifying documents such as driver’s license, state or military ID, your SS#, DOB, complete address and law enforcement or DMV report, if applicable. In return you will receive a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that will be required to remove or suspend the freeze.
Make sure to contact all three agencies to increase the odds of stopping any further damage. Credit reporting agencies must place the freeze no later than five business days after receiving your request.
|Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, Georgia 30348
|Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
|TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834
The Cost of Security Freezing
The cost of a security freeze is determined by state laws and less than $20 – a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes when you know you’ve done all you can to protect yourself. Payment by check, money order, or major credit card for the appropriate fees is required before the freeze will be initiated. In addition, for VISA, MasterCard, Discover or American Express payments, include your name as it appears on the card, the card number and the expiration date.
If the police are involved in the fraudulent incident, freezing your accounts is free. In addition, disclaimers include military personal, as well as identity theft victims; in some states seniors are allowed to freeze their files for free.
Unfreezing Your Account
When you need to apply for credit or make a purchase that requires access to your credit report, the PIN and, depending on the state, a fee of up to $20 will temporarily thaw the account. Many states require a temporary thaw within 15 minutes of an electronic request. Permanently unfreezing your account will take up to 3 days.
A few important things to remember: A security freeze does not stop pre-approved credit card offers. If you want these mailings to stop, you need to opt-out online at www.optoutprescreen.com or by phone 1-888-567-8688. Current credit and debit card numbers may still be vulnerable, if you suspect fraudulent activity. Handle with care.
About the Authour:
Noreen Ruth is a regular contributor to a wide variety of financial-related blogs and websites. She specializes in credit and debt-related issues, and provides valuable information to help consumers choose the right credit cards and make prudent financial decisions. Click here for additional info, reviews and comparisons of the latest credit card offers or follow her regular posts on the ASAP Credit Card Blog.