It’s a question that I am asked at least daily. To be honest, it is impossible to guarantee that you won’t become a victim of identity theft no matter which proactive identity theft protection steps you take. There are many different ways that criminals can steal, and then fraudulently use, your identity. The best that you can do is to implement a preventative plan to minimize the identity theft inconvenience.
Let me preface my comments by stating that I am not an advocate for any credit monitoring, credit restoration or identity theft insurance service that are commonly packaged into a product sold to consumers for a $15 – $30 monthly fee. You have likely seen or heard the slick marketing commercials – now, more than ever.
If you take one step now, you can alleviate a lot of anguish and problems later – especially as it pertains to the granting of new credit. Simply freeze your credit. That’s it – freeze your credit.
What Does Freezing a Credit Report Do?
A credit freeze restricts others from seeing your credit report. Most financial institutions will attempt to check a consumer’s credit before granting any new credit. If they cannot verify your credit, they are likely to not issue credit. But they can.
Freezing a credit report does not prevent the common practice of any lender or credit card company – that has already issued you credit – from reviewing your credit report. Most intermittently check your credit during the year.
How Do I Freeze My Credit?
To freeze your credit, you need to call each of the three credit reporting bureaus. Freezing your credit is easy and the procedure varies by each credit reporting bureau.
Equifax – the credit freeze request must be made in writing:
Equifax Security Freeze
PO Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
If you freeze your credit in writing, you will need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, date of birth and a copy of your police report (if one has been filed).
The cost to freeze and “thaw” your credit varies by state. For Ohio, it costs $5 each to freeze and thaw. However, if you have been the victim of identity theft, there is no cost for either.
You Will Be Provided With a Personal Identification Number (PIN)
After receiving your request, the credit reporting bureaus will mail you a letter with a 10-digit personal identification number (PIN). Each PIN from each credit reporting bureau will be different. You will need the appropriate PIN to thaw your credit at a later date. A credit freeze is considered permanent by the bureau until you remove it.
There are several myths about obtaining a credit freeze. Many think that it will negatively affect their credit score and/or interfere with any currently issued credit or credit cards. Not true.
Freezing your credit does not prevent you from applying for new credit, a job or even renting an apartment. You can do these activities as long as you “thaw” your credit by either calling all three credit bureaus, or preferably just the one that the person or business uses to check credit.
Thawing Your Credit
Temporarily thawing your credit is simple. If doing so by mail, you will need to provide your PIN, the date range for which you want your credit freeze lifted and name of the party eligible to review your credit.
When calling to thaw your credit, you must allow three days lead time for the thaw to be effective. Attempting to thaw your credit does not happen with a simple telephone call. It does not happen immediately, nor do the bureaus respond after regular business hours or on weekends.
Freezing a Minor’s Credit
Many parents may wish to freeze their minor children’s credit. Each credit reporting bureau handles credit freeze for minors differently. Children don’t have a credit report (or at least they shouldn’t). Credit reporting agencies can’t freeze that which technically doesn’t exist. Equifax will freeze your child’s credit if the parent requests that a credit account be opened, if only to then be frozen. Experian and TransUnion will not freeze a child’s credit – even if requested by a parent – unless you live in one of a handful of states that require such (Ohio is NOT one of them). A credit freeze on a minor child is only effective until the child turns 18.
Even when you freeze your credit, you still should secure and review your three credit reports annually. In addition, it’s also a very good idea to have your own background check performed. A personal background check would likely identify any acts not reported to credit bureaus that involve various crimes, or even litigation.
You have to approach identity theft with a completely different mindset than you may have had only a year ago. With all of the serious breaches (such as Anthem), we are now on “defense.” It’s not a matter of “IF” you will ever become a victim of identity theft; rather, the new paradigm is a matter of “WHEN.”
For more information on identity theft, contact Frank Suponcic at 440-449-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.