Think of what you provide when opening a new account, applying for a loan, or verifying a purchase that your bank has flagged. Typically, someone asks for your name, contact information, and your social security number. Earlier this year, the credit giant Equifax reported that approximately 143 million Americans had this type of personal information compromised. In the weeks and months that followed, there has been quite a bit of attention focused on what is considered the largest data breach in history, and what people can do to protect themselves.
At Luftman, Heck & Associates, our Ohio debt management lawyers wanted to provide some important details about this situation and some of the protection available through a credit freeze. If your personal information has been compromised or if you’re wondering if freezing your credit is the right decision for you, call us today at (888) 726-3181.
What is a Credit Freeze?
Sometimes called a security freeze, this restricts access to your credit report, making it difficult for difficult for new accounts to be opened in your name. As a consumer, you have the right to freeze your credit at any time, which places a ban on a credit agency’s ability to release your information to third parties such as banks or landlords. This also denies identity thieves the ability to open a new account in your name, because the process of opening a bank account or line of credit requires a credit check. The credit freeze makes the credit check impossible, so the thief cannot open the account.
In the wake of the Equifax breach – which has compromised the social security numbers, names, and addresses of more than a third of Americans – you may be considering requesting a credit freeze. Bear in mind that for this strategy to be effective, you must request a freeze with all of the leading credit reporting agencies.
How Can I Get a Credit Freeze?
You can easily request a credit freeze by phone. You may be able to avoid waiting on hold if you apply online at any of these companies’ websites, but you will need an internet connection, and in some instances, extra documentation. In most cases, it’s the hardest to request a freeze by mail. Here is how to get in touch with the leading credit bureaus:
- By phone: 1(800) 685-1111 (hit 8 after the message)
- By certified mail: Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta 30348 (send your full name, address, Social Security number, date of birth and a $5 check)
- By phone: 1(888) 397-3742
- By certified mail: Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013 (send your full name, Social Security number, date of birth, current address and those of the previous two years, a copy your passport or driver’s license, a copy of a utility bill, and a $5 check)
- By phone: 1(888) 909-8872
- By certified mail: TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834 (send your full name, utility bill, date of birth, Social Security number, copy of driver’s license, and a $5 check)
- By phone: 1(800) 540-2505
- By mail, fill out and the form available at: https://www.innovis.com/personal/securityFreeze
What Will a Credit Freeze Not Do?
While a credit freeze will have no long term affect to your credit score and won’t stop you from getting a free annual report, it does have limitations and can be somewhat inconvenient. Since your credit is unavailable to anyone – including identity thieves – during the time of its freeze, it will also be unavailable to you. Therefore, you won’t be able to open a new bank account, rent an apartment, buy a car, or apply for a job until the freeze is lifted. Furthermore, a credit freeze does not stop thieves from making charges to your existing accounts. You will still need to monitor all your financial statements for fraudulent activity.
How Much Does a Credit Freeze Cost?
For Ohio residents, the cost of a credit freeze is $5. So it will cost $20 to freeze your credit reports across all credit bureaus. You may, however, avoid the fee if you can prove that you are the victim of identity theft. It’s not enough to show that someone has gotten a hold of your information. You must show a report from the police or Department of Motor Vehicles that states someone tried to use your information.
Lifting the Freeze
If you want to rent an apartment, open a bank account, or apply for a credit card, you will need to unfreeze your credit with one or more credit bureaus. This also costs $5. Most financial institutions and businesses will check your credit with only one credit agency, and you can ask which one it will be to avoid the hassle of unfreezing your credit with multiple bureaus.
A Credit Freeze or a Fraud Alert?
A credit freeze restricts your credit, while a fraud alert allows access if creditors take steps to confirm your identity. For example, you can provide a phone number, and the business trying to review your credit must call to verify this is your request. Fraud alerts may stop someone from opening new accounts, but they are not effective at preventing fraud from occurring on your current accounts. You’ll still need to monitor all your bank statements and bills for fraud.
Three types of fraud alerts are available:
- Initial Fraud Alert- Typically meant for those that have not yet been affected by identity theft, this alert will protect your credit for 90 days.
- Extended Fraud Alert- Victims of identity theft can use this alert that will protect their credit for seven years.
- Active Duty Military Alert- Active members of the U.S. Military can have their credit frozen for a year while they are deployed.
Luftman, Heck & Associates Can Help
At Luftman, Heck & Associates, we are passionate about representing the interests of Ohio consumers. If you are the victim of identity theft, or are having trouble requesting a credit freeze, our consumer rights lawyers can help. Call us today at (888) 726-3181, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free and confidential consultation.