Why You Should Consider ‘Freezing’ Your Credit Files
By Herb Weisbaum, Sept. 15, 2017

In the aftermath of the Equifax data breach, a lot of fraud experts have been suggesting that we all put a freeze on our credit files. What is a credit freeze and why should you do it?

A freeze locks your credit file, so that no one – not even you – can get into that file without the PIN code. If you do this, put that PIN in a safe place where you’ll be able to find it, maybe years from now, should you need to thaw that file and give a creditor access to it.

A freeze does not affect any ongoing relationships you already have from companies and it will not stop you from getting your monthly credit score. It will prevent an identity thief who has your Social Security number from opening a financial account in your name.

Because of the data breach, Equifax is offering to freeze or unlock a credit file for free until November 21, 2017. It is also recommended that you place a freeze on your credit files at the two other major credit bureaus, Experian and TransUnion.

In most cases, you will have to pay ($3 to $10) to have those Equifax or TransUnion files locked. And you will need to pay again if you need to unlock that file, should you apply for credit. Trust me: It’s a small price to pay to prevent all the hassles that can take place when a crook gets credit in your name and starts buying things.

The cost varies from state to state. In some states, it’s free for everyone. In some states, it’s free for some people, such as military or seniors. Use this chart to see what the rules are in your state.

Bottom Line: A credit freeze is the only thing you can do to prevent financial identity theft. Credit monitoring will not stop a crook; it only alerts you after there’s a problem.

If you plan to do this, and I strongly suggest you do, get a free copy of your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – before you freeze those account. See if there’s anything suspicious or out of order that would indicated possible fraud – such as accounts you never opened. Go to annualcreditreport.com to get those free reports. This is the only site you should use.

The Identity Theft Resource Center has a Q & A that should answer more of your question about the breach and how to respond. It also has information on how to talk to one of their counselors – it’s a free service.

Listen to Herb explain about credit freezes with Nick Digilio on WGN Radio.

Other Resources:

Federal Trade Commission: The Equifax Breach: What to Do

NBC News: The One Move to Make After Equifax Breach

BobSullivan.Net: Equifax: What now? Also, don’t overreact

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