Published 27 September 2018
Earlier this year I wrote about the importance of freezing your credit and the benefits and protections the freeze provides. Since that time, on Sept. 21 to be exact, a new law went into effect prohibiting credit reporting agencies from charging a fee for the service.
Congress’ action was taken in response to the major theft of individual credit files maintained by Equifax, one of our country’s three major credit reporting agencies. In addition to stealing the names, addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers belonging to the 148 million people whose information Equifax was obligated to safeguard, the identity thieves also pilfered some driver’s license and passport information.
Prior to the law going into effect, each of the three major credit bureaus typically charged $10 to $12 to freeze or unfreeze a file. Freezes prohibit access to credit files so that potential creditors, aspiring thieves and other third parties won’t be able to gain access unless the individual gives the okay. Putting a freeze in place is as easy as submitting a request to each of the three credit bureaus.
The bureaus are obligated to put the freezes in place within one business day if the request is made online or by phone — three business days if the request was made by snail mail. The bureaus must unfreeze accounts within one business day of receiving the request. Freezes are also available for your children who are under 16, if you are someone’s guardian or conservator, or have a valid power of attorney. Pin numbers are then issued so that consumers can lock and unlock their files at will.
The freezes will stay in place until the consumer decides to lift them, but certain entities will still have access to the information. Current creditors and collection agencies acting on creditors’ behalves are two such exceptions, with other creditors who want to make us offers of credit being another. These “other” creditors have far less access than do the companies we’re already doing business with and typically see only the basic information contained in so-called “credit headers.”
Government agencies will also be allowed to nose-around in credit files if they’re collecting child support payments or taxes, or investigating Medicaid fraud. Search warrants, administrative orders and subpoenas issued by government agencies are also keys that can easily unlock files.
Look into ‘fraud alerts’
Fraud Alerts are also an important tool that can be used to prevent the hijacking of our credit.
According to the folks at the Federal Trade Commission (https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0275-place-fraud-alert), three types of fraud alerts are available:
Initial Fraud Alert: If you’re concerned about identity theft, but haven’t yet become a victim, a fraud alert will protect your credit files from unverified access for at least one year (formerly 90-days). You may want to place a fraud alert on your file if your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial or account information has been lost or stolen, or if you just want to be extra cautious.
Extended Fraud Alert: For victims of identity theft, an extended fraud alert will protect your credit for seven years.
Active Duty Military Alert: For those in the military who want to protect their credit while deployed, this fraud alert lasts for one year. The alert also requires credit reporting agencies to take your name off their marketing lists for pre-screened credit card offers for two years.
To place a security freeze or fraud alert on your credit files, simply contact one of the nationwide credit reporting companies. That company is obligated to pass your request along to the other two companies. Fraud alerts are free; however, you must provide proof of your identity.
To request a security freeze or place a freeze or alert with Equifax, logon to https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services, or call 800-685-1111.
For Experian, use https://experian.com/help or phone 888-397-3742.
Requests can be submitted to TransUnion at https://transunion.com/credit-help or 888-909-8872.
Info on identity theft
To learn all there is to know about security freezes, fraud alerts and identity theft, “Do Not Call” legislation and opting out of being on the receiving end of unsolicited offers, contact the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov or call their I.D. Theft Hotline at 877-438-4338.
While there’s no foolproof way to protect access to your credit files, taking advantage of credit freezes and fraud alerts are excellent, no-cost ways to protect yourself from predators who are looking to take advantage of any chink in your credit-file armor.
See you at closing!
Gary Sandler is the president of Gary Sandler Inc., Realtors in Las Cruces and can be reached at 575-642-2292 or Gary@GarySandler.com.