Published: March 22, 2023 on our newsletter Security Fraud News & Alerts Newsletter.
Having your private information or identity stolen is no picnic. It takes quite a long time to make it right, so one of the best ways to help ensure that neither happens in the first place is to protect it as much as you can. In light of the recent Capital One data breach, many may be considering putting a freeze on their credit reports and that is a great idea. But, be sure to know what that means before taking that action.
Why Freeze Your Credit?
Credit reports contain a bunch of information about you and your credit and payment history and patterns. It includes your addresses, current and past, your creditors, your social security number, any negative payments, credit scores, and a host of other very valuable information. If it’s stolen, it could be used against you for a whole host of purposes such as credit fraud, income tax fraud, or healthcare fraud. Perhaps even all of them. Someone could potentially become you.
Therefore, if you were part of the Capital One breach or any other breach where information about you was accessed without your permission, you may want to consider a freeze on your credit report.
What Does Freezing Your Credit Mean?
When you freeze your credit information, no one can pull that information from the credit bureaus; including you. That said, if you need to make it available for some reason, you can unfreeze it forever or for a temporary period of time; even for just a day. You just need to plan ahead a little bit.
However, if you want to apply for credit of any kind, you will not be able to unless you unfreeze it. This also applies to things like requesting your credit score or applying for a home to rent. Landlords often want to check your credit also and you would need to unfreeze it for that too.
When Is It Good To Freeze Credit?
In any of the following conditions, you may want to consider freezing your credit:
You have been an identity theft victim
Your social security number has been accessed without your authorization
You have been the victim of healthcare related fraud
Your payment card number(s) has been stolen
Your mail has been stolen
You have been a victim of income tax fraud
Your online accounts have been breached, whether or not they included your payment card information
You just want to protect yourself from becoming a fraud or identity theft victim
You don’t need and no one else needs immediate access to your credit reports
Does It Cost Anything?
No, it doesn’t. Last year, as a result of the Equifax data beach affecting nearly half the population of the U.S., Congress passed a bill requiring all states to make it free to freeze and unfreeze your credit.
Should I Freeze My Child’s Credit Report?
Yes. Children are the victims of identity theft as well. In fact, a Javelin Strategy & Research Study found that 1 million children in the U.S. were victims of this last year. Two-thirds of them were under eight years old. Thieves can buy a child’s SSN on the dark web for $2, commit fraud, and no one may notice for years.
It’s a good idea to freeze the credit reports of all children until they are of age to use their credit.
How Can I Freeze My Credit Report?
The good news is that it has become very easy to do this. As of writing, all three of the major credit bureaus have put the link to freeze your credit on the front pages of their websites. TransUnion and Equifax have put it right at the top. Equifax has it toward the bottom.
You must do this for each bureau. It’s not a one and done situation for this. However, after you click the link to freeze on each site, it doesn’t take but a few minutes to make the request. Fill in your name, requested social security information, and other verification details, and you’re done.
If you prefer to call, you can do that too. Just be sure to get the current phone numbers off their websites directly.
Also remember that credit monitoring is not the same as a credit freeze. Credit monitoring still leave your credit report accessible. You will just receive notifications if someone tries to access it.
For more information, you can visit any of the credit bureaus or the FTC’s websites.
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