In light of the news surrounding the Equifax data breach, we felt it was timely to rerun the blog we wrote in 2014 about your credit reports. Certainly this breach highlights how difficult it is to protect ourselves from identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission wrote a recent article with their recommendations about what to do regarding the Equifax breach. We recommend you check your credit reports with the other two agencies, then freeze your credit with all three agencies. We understand Equifax is waiving fees for a security freeze until November 21, 2017, but the servers and call centers at all three credit reporting agencies appear to be overwhelmed, so keep trying. Freezing your credit is one of the best defenses we have. It adds a level of inconvenience for future credit needs, but it certainly adds a level of protection now. Especially until we know more about the extent and remedies of this recent significant breach of our personal information.
After discussing cyber security and identity theft, you can probably see the importance of monitoring your credit reports and controlling access to your credit history. A credit freeze is one way you can protect yourself before or after a breach of your secure information. Also known as a “security freeze”, this allows you to deny access to your credit history unless you specifically authorize it and thereby prevent the opening of new credit in your name. However, before you actually restrict access to your credit, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
If you have been a victim of identity theft, you normally do not pay a fee to implement a security freeze on your credit file, but this depends on the state you live in. If your identity has not been compromised, then you may need to pay a fee, which again depends on your state. Here in Alaska, identity theft victims do not pay for credit freezes but all others pay a $5 fee to place the freeze and a $2 fee to temporarily lift the freeze per request. When you are ready to rescind the freeze, you will need to submit a request (by phone, mail, or on the websites for Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) for permanent removal. The process of placing or removing a credit freeze does not apply jointly, so you and your spouse would need to separately manage the security freeze at all three credit bureaus.
While securing your credit report will prevent anyone from opening credit in your name, it will also make it more cumbersome for you to do certain things, such as buy insurance, apply for a mortgage or rental housing, or it could even hold up an employment opportunity. After you have implemented a security freeze, you need to contact each of the credit reporting agencies to temporarily allow access to your credit report for certain financial transactions. A temporary lift can be made for an authorized party or parties or for a specific period of time. However, it could take up to three business days for a temporary lift request to be processed and you may not be able to request it during non-business hours, weekends, and holidays.
If you have not been a victim of identity theft and the security freeze sounds like it would be more of a burden than a benefit, it is still a good idea to get your credit reports at least once a year from all three credit bureaus (you get one free report from each agency per year). Look for inquiries on your report that you do not recognize and new accounts that you did not open (new accounts can take up to six months to show up on your reports). www.annualcreditreport.com is the website for your free credit reports as allowed by federal law.
It is up to you if you want to put your credit report on ice!
Cathie Straub, CPA, CFP®
Director, APCM Wealth Management for Individuals