Identity theft is an incredibly invasive and potentially devastating form of crime. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars, ruin credit, and consume countless hours of time. One of the best tools for preventing identity theft is what is known as a credit freeze (sometimes called a security freeze). A credit freeze is free for residents of many states, and to victims of identity theft. For the rest this will cost only $5 or $10, depending on the laws in your state. You can find out your state’s credit freeze laws here. Today’s task is to request a credit freeze for yourself and all members of your family, including your children. If your children have a social security number they, too are vulnerable to identity theft.
- What is a credit freeze? A credit freeze prevents the credit bureaus from issuing new lines of credit without your explicit consent. Your account is “frozen” which protects you in several ways. Most obviously no one can spend money in your name. A freeze also makes it impossible for potential creditors to pull your credit report. This protects your physical address and other personal information contained in the report. Potential creditors can’t even see your credit score, which will automatically get rid of pre-approved credit offers in your name.
- What if I need a new line of credit? If you need a new line of credit you can temporarily (or permanently) lift the freeze. You do so by calling the appropriate credit bureau and requesting the freeze be lifted. Before the freeze is lifted you will have to verify your identity. This is done through an PIN you are given when the freeze is placed. Temporary lifts generally last 24-hours, after which the freeze is back in place and your credit is once again protected.
- How do I get a credit freeze? You can request one through the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. You should request a freeze through all three of these bureaus, as any of the three may be queried. The exact procedures for each will vary slightly, so follow the directions on each bureau’s site.
You should also request your annual credit report to ensure no credit has been opened in your name without your knowledge. The ONLY site through which you should do so is https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action. There are very few measures you can take to protect your identity that will be as effective as a credit freeze and proactive credit monitoring. This includes, in my opinion, signing up for paid credit/ID monitoring services.