The recent data breach at Equifax compromised the personal information of millions of consumers.
Whether your information was compromised or not as part of this data breach, a credit freeze may be a good idea, but you have to obtain a freeze from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
A credit freeze is free for senior citizens 65 and older and for victims of identity theft. For other Georgia residents, it costs $3 per credit reporting agency, or you can freeze your credit file with all three credit reporting agencies for a one-time fee of $9, which is much less than the monthly cost of most credit monitoring services.
Freezing your credit file prevents anyone from opening new credit accounts in your name. Should anyone apply for credit using your personal information, the lender will be unable to access your credit report. Without access to your credit history, the lender will deny the credit request.
A credit freeze does not affect your ability to use the credit cards you already possess. Identity thieves may steal your card number, expiration date and other information needed to use the card. As long as you report the loss of the card within 24 hours or notify the lender of unauthorized purchases, other laws limit your liability to no more than $50.
A security freeze on your credit file will not prevent fraud that involves existing bank or credit accounts.
A security freeze on your credit file does not completely block access. Insurance companies, existing creditors and law enforcement agencies can still access your information. Other entities cannot see your credit file unless you temporarily lift, or “thaw,” the security freeze.
Once you obtain a security freeze, you must pay $3 per credit reporting agency to thaw the security freeze in order to apply for new credit. Georgia law requires the thaw to be available within 15 minutes of the request. Thawing the account is easily done with a personal identification number (PIN) or password provided by the credit reporting agency.
A security freeze is not for everyone. If you are actively shopping for a mortgage, car loan, utilities or other new credit, wait until the transaction has been completed to freeze your credit file.
To request a security freeze online through Experian and TransUnion, go to Experian.com and TransUnion.com and enter “freeze” in the search box for more information about how to initiate a freeze through those credit reporting agencies. To request a security freeze online through Equifax, go directly to www.freeze.Equifax.com. Expect to spend five minutes or less on each web page. Remember, you must freeze your credit through all three reporting agencies.
To request a security freeze in writing, be prepared to enter your full name, including former names if applicable; current and former addresses for the last five years; your Social Security number; a photocopy of your driver’s license, state identification card or other government-issued identification; proof of your current residence, such as a copy of a phone or utility bill; and payment by check, money order or credit card.
If you are a victim of identity theft and are freezing your credit, include a copy of a police report, investigative report or complaint filed with a law enforcement agency concerning the identity theft instead of tendering payment. Send written requests to each of the credit reporting agencies at: Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013; Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348; and TransUnion Security Freeze, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, California, 92834-6790.
To find out if you were affected by the Equifax data breach, visit Equifax’s website at equifaxsecurity2017.com.
For more information on protecting yourself from identity theft, read University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Bulletin 1435, “Get Smart About Identity Theft,” at extension.uga.edu/publications.
(Michael Rupured is an extension financial management specialist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)