Identity theft prevention: Should you freeze your credit reports?
Adapted from Cash Chat blog post by Suzanne Gellman, Family Financial Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension
Unless you live in a bubble, it is hard to totally prevent identity theft. After all, many entities other than you have your personal information – financial institutions, doctors, schools, etc. The goal is to put measures in place that make it more difficult to steal your identity.
Important prevention methods include:
- Buying a good shredder and shredding anything with personal information before it gets tossed
- Keeping personal information out of your mailbox when possible
- Protecting account information and personal information in your possession by locking it up at home and carrying very little personal information with you
Credit monitoring or other protection services that you pay for don’t prevent ID theft because they can only catch it after it has already happened to you.
With a little planning and time, you can monitor your own credit reports and accounts for free. You can check your financial statements every month either online or by opening your mail. You can also order your free credit reports every 12 months, or alternate several times a year at http://annualcreditreport.com.
Another very important ID theft prevention tool available is called a Credit Freeze and/or Security Freeze. In most states, including Missouri, you have the right to put a freeze on your credit report that prevents anyone from pulling it to issue NEW credit. The most difficult type of ID theft to clean up is when someone opens new credit in your name and then misuses those accounts.
A security freeze puts a lock on your credit report so that in order to open new credit, you have to temporarily unlock your report. Sounds inconvenient, right? That is what the credit bureaus make it sound like on their websites – they warn it could take weeks to unfreeze your reports. Turns out this is not usually the case at all. For example, under Missouri law, after the initial freeze on your credit report, if you call or email the credit bureau within normal business hours to temporarily unfreeze your credit report, they have 15 minutes from receipt to comply with your request. Other states appear to have similar requirements. For specific information about state laws on the security/credit freeze, visit the Consumers Union website: http://defendyourdollars.org/document/guide-to-security-freeze-protection.
A security freeze DOES NOT prevent you from being able to pull your own credit reports at any time, nor does it prevent business entities you already have a relationship with (your mortgage, your credit cards, etc.) from being able to review your credit.
The average person opens one to two new credit accounts a year, so if that is the case with you, it may be a much safer and cheaper option to pay to freeze and unfreeze your credit report a few times a year than pay for other types of protective services.
According to Consumers Union, “A security freeze generally costs less than credit monitoring and gives you better protection against the new account form of ID theft.”
For more information and ideas about protecting your identity, check out this website from the FTC: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/protecting-your-identity
Link to original blog: Identity Theft Prevention: Should You Freeze Your Credit Reports?, posted October 17, 2013
Last update: Tuesday, March 25, 2014