Identity Theft: How to “Freeze” Access To Your Credit by Richard Prosser
Are you concerned about identity theft? The answer is straightforwardly simple:“Absolutely and wholeheartedly, YES!” And if anyone has ever taken your credit for a spin, you are likely to follow with, “And you just can’t imagine how awful it truly is.”
If there is one thing that can’t be said enough, it is that no matter how many safeguards you put in place, and no matter how careful you are, your information is vulnerable. One incident alone in 2005 exposed the financial data of as many as 40 million credit-card holders of various brands – that’s right, “40 million!” For the mathematically disinclined, that’s approximately one in seven Americans.
As most of you are aware, the aforementioned incident – although perhaps of the greatest magnitude – is far from isolated. You, have probably received a letter from either your mortgage lender or your credit-card company informing you of a security breach. If you have not, it is safe to say that you are part of a relatively small minority.
Fortunately, both Congress and your State legislatures have responded to the problem, introducing new measures aimed at keeping your confidential information safe. If you were in attendance at either of the recent Hot Legal Topics Seminars hosted by Vann & Sheridan, you will likely remember James Vann’s discussion of a new tool that allows you, as consumers, to “freeze” your credit – in other words, a device by which you can place a password protected lock on your credit information.
Below, we have outlined precisely how a “freeze” — or perhaps more aptly termed,“security freeze” — works, so that you will have a more precise understanding should you decide to implement this device yourself. Also, I hope to have anticipated some of your questions by providing answers to a few of the most commonly shared concerns. Should you have additional questions, accurate and reliable information can be located online at www.ftc.gov, and for North Carolina residents, www.noscamnc.gov.
What is a security freeze?
Security freezes have been described as one of the most effective tools against economic identity theft. In essence, they offer an additional layer of protection from identity thieves. The way they work is simple. At your request, each of the three major credit bureaus will place a password protected lock on your credit.Without access to your unique password, your credit is locked from outsiders. As a result, creditors will refuse to extend new credit in your name until you have either removed the freeze or placed a temporary “thaw” on your credit.
How do I put my security freeze in place?
Just a few years ago, only actual victims of identity theft could implement a security freeze; however, such is no longer the case. In 2005, individual states began enacting so called “security freeze laws” – among those presently included are North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. These laws allow residents to initiate a security freeze by sending a certified letter with the following information to each of the three major credit bureaus (a sample letter can be found at http://noscamnc.gov/toolkit.html):
- Full Name;
- Addresses for the past five years;
- Social Security Number;
- Date of Birth;
- Two proofs of residence (e.g., driver’s license, utility bill, or bank statement); and
- Payment by check, money order, or credit card ($10 in North Carolina)
The pertinent addresses information is as follows:
- Equifax Security Freeze P.O. Box 105788 Atlanta, GA 30348
- Experian Security Freeze P.O. Box 9554 Allen, TX 75013
- Trans Union Security Freeze P.O. Box 6790 Fullerton, CA 92384-6790
Note to South Carolina residents: Until recently, South Carolina was part of the minority of states without a security freeze law. This changed in April of 2008, when South Carolina enacted its “Financial Identity Fraud and Identity Theft Protection Act”. This Act, said to be some of the most comprehensive legislation of its kind, makes South Carolina one of only two states to allow residents to initiate a credit freeze free of charge.
How can I remove or “thaw” my security freeze?
Within ten days of each credit bureau putting a freeze in place, you can expect to receive by mail your unique password accompanied by instructions for removing the freeze both temporarily and permanently.Be aware that the credit bureaus are permitted by law in many states to charge you an additional $10 fee for each freeze removal – be it either permanent or temporary. Should you need to remove the freeze, the credit bureaus are expected to act within three business days of your request.
How will my credit freeze impact by credit score? Credit report?
Placing a security freeze has no affect on your credit score. Further, you remain free to purchase your credit report or utilize a credit monitoring service. Along those same lines, do not forget that you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three credit bureaus. To access your free annual report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com.