Every week it seems like I read something about a security breach, whether it is a bank, government entity, university, or hospital, the possibilities of a breach are endless. Criminals are grabbing sensitive information such as social security numbers to commit fraud. The topic comes up frequently in my classes about credit, people want to know how they can protect themselves if they are part of a security breach.
The standard recommendation is to add a fraud alert to your credit report. This is a notation on the credit report notifying anyone looking at the credit report that there is a chance of identity theft, therefore the identity of the person requesting credit should be scrutinized. I am not a firm believer in relying on a fraud alert as a sound protection from identity theft. The reality is it does not stop anything, but rather it is simply a cautionary notice.
The better approach is to consider a security freeze as a protection because it denies access to your credit report. When a freeze is added to your credit report, all third parties, such as lenders or other companies, whose use is not exempt under law will not be able to access your credit report without your consent (you give them a pin for access). A security freeze is more beneficial than a fraud alert because it actually stops access to your credit report without your permission. It is available to ID theft victims with a police report and non-victims who have no police report for a specific incident, but wish to protect themselves.
You need to go to each credit bureau individually to institute a freeze:
If the links change just go into each credit bureau website and search the term “security freeze.”
The reason I like the security freeze is because if someone has your social security number and tries to apply for credit, a creditor will not be able to access your credit report and therefore credit will likely be denied. You should still check your credit report annually to make sure there are no issues, and the security freeze will not prevent someone from using your credit card if your account number is stolen, so remain on guard and realize the freeze will only prevent new accounts from being opened in your name. Existing accounts are still susceptible.
The security freeze may delay or interfere with the timely approval of any subsequent request or application you make that involves access to your credit report. This includes new loans, credit, mortgages, insurance, rental housing, employment, investments, licenses, cellular phone service, utility service, digital signature service, and extension of credit at point of sale.
Additionally, while your report is frozen, companies that provide consumer data to the credit bureaus will not be allowed to update name, address, social security number and date of birth information on your credit report. If there are any changes made to your name or address while your file is frozen, you must notify the credit bureaus directly so that they can update your personal information.
If you wish to apply for a new credit account or other credit relationship, and the prospective lender or company needs to access your credit report, you will need to get a pin code to give access to your report or remove the security freeze.
As a method of protection the security freeze is a way to lock up your credit report and the cost is generally free if you have a police report or a $5 - $10 onetime fee if you do not. It is not only the best protection, but it is also a very inexpensive protection.