Update: Keeping the freeze links up to date on this post, I had to use it again recently and a couple were dead
Because of the Equifax information breach, many people are curious about how they can protect their identity.
I think many people think well, the hackers have all my info, I can’t do anything, right?
You should assume your information has been compromised.
What can you do about it? Literally the cheapest and easiest way to protect your identity is to freeze your credit file.
Contrary to what others may say, there are are actually 4 (not 3) credit reporting bureaus, EquiFax, Experian, TransUnion and Innovis (that’s the weird one).
Why is this so important and what does it do?
Freezing your credit file places a PIN number protected hold on your credit file. You cannot take out loans, new credit cards, or open new lines of credit without the PIN. If someone has access to your information, they can take out credit cards, open a mortgage, buy property, etc, but not without access to some level of credit.
Freezing will prevent you from taking out new credit cards, buying cars, opening a home loan and the like. If you do this a lot, this isn’t for you, though it’s very easy to lift a freeze for a week
Credit freeze access is the law in 49 states (sorry Michigan), and is easy, inexpensive, and easy to lift if you need to (it may take 24 hours).
Sounds kind of expensive, what does it cost?
In California, the only agency that charged me was TransUnion and it was $10. Worth every penny.
Well I’m impervious because I have a credit monitoring service…right?
The advice from Brian Krebs is pretty detailed. While one agency might provide a service, there are very few that cover all four agencies. Coverage and what these services actually do is kind of all over the map and in some cases, may even be reselling information you want protected.
Giving someone else the responsibility to watch over my credit seems like a flawed concept. These ‘plans’ are a great way to sell a service to make people feel like they’re doing something, when in reality, they’re mostly sold by the credit bureaus to build a new line of business for something they should be protecting anyway.
A credit report freeze is effective, cheaper and actually does something.
Alright, how do I freeze my credit file?
Visit each one of these and register a freeze on your file. Be sure to save the PIN they give you in a safe place. If you need to thaw your file for some reason, this PIN number is what you’ll need.
Once you’ve done this, be sure to visit this link to opt-out of the pre-screened credit card offers via email and snailmail. https://www.optoutprescreen.com/?rf=t
Where do I find out more?
Brian Krebs is the authority here. He was the guy to break the story on the Target breach and many, many more. Credit freezes are pretty simple and can help protect your credit.
Freezing your credit file is not a magic bullet, the Equifax breach is bad news. This is one measure you can put in place to help preserve your financial well-being.