Data breaches, credit freezes, and identity theft… oh my!

News reports of large-scale data breaches — like this week’s announcement from Home Depot — have prompted some of our readers to ask about a credit freeze. Also known as a security freeze, this tool lets you limit access to your credit report, which makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.

Our Credit Freeze FAQs can help you decide whether a credit freeze is right for you. One thing to remember: A credit freeze doesn’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. Even if you elect a credit freeze you still will monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts for charges you don’t recognize. 

You also can check your credit reports — for free — every few months by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228. Federal law allows you to get a free copy every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Accounts on your credit report that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit ftc.gov/idtheft to find out what to do.

Finally, be aware of phishing scams. Delete email or text messages that ask you to confirm or provide personal information (credit card and bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords, etc.). The sender already may have some personal information about you, stolen as part of a data breach. Don’t let that fool you. Legitimate companies don't ask for sensitive personal data via email or text.

Comments

So what does a citizen do if he/she finds credit card use that would indicate someone has and is using his/her credit card info?

Hi, Chuck,

If you see charges you don't recognize, call your credit card provider or bank right away. Ask for the fraud department.

Nicole,
I have done exactly what you said to do along with filling out a report with local police. Unfortunatly I have had to go through this 3 times since Jan of this year. I always get my money returned and a new card is issued. I'm never told who or how or why this keeps happening. I only use my card at the same bank and with 2 creditors that I have done business with for over 10 years with never a problem. I'm now on my 4th card in a little over 7 months. So what is one to do to stop fradulent/unauthorized charges? Never happens with wife's card on same account though her number is different plus she uses it everywhere.
Puzzeled!!!

The same thing has happened to me. I have had to get a new credit card 3x within the last 6 weeks b/c of fraudulent charges. And the vendors do not have my new card # b/c I have not placed new orders with the new card. when I ask what the billing address is on the orders for the card they tell me I have to go to the police to allow them to give out that info. One of the people at the card co said that vendors can pay to get auto updates on your card which negates getting a new card. Very frustrating.

Thank you so much for all the advice you give to help keep consumer's safe.

Most cards have alerts that you can use on your account. For example, I have alerts on my account for purchases that exceed a certain amount. They send a text message as well as an email. At least you will know immediately and can try to keep your accounts safe. If it is fraud the credit card company will reverse the charges.

Why dont you just change your bank. Sounds like something is not right with your account at that bank especially if your wife's is okay. Doesnt sound right to me at all.

I live in South Carolina, which had a major credit info theft at the Dept of Revenue. I put a freeze on my credit information and now I have misplaced the pins to be able to unlock the freeze...any suggestions on getting this corrected would be greatly appreciated!

I am going to use another one but can get direct deposit if I don't have money

What about thieves who open a new card using your information? I have started receiving small items ordered online at my house. I believe the thieves are trying to establish a pattern. The problem is no one can tell me who issued the card. The merchants tell me to return the merchandise, no problem, but there isn't any open credit lines on my credit report. How do I stop further abuse?

Well I and my husband along with 50 million others are all trying to sign up for the lame credit bureau checking for a lousy one year due to Home Depot's lax security approach. The online forms freeze up. The phone support is another joke since if you call their help number they can't actually do anything but have some call you days later. Ha ha ha Home Depot very funny. It is a colossal joke on the American public and on the FTC. They look like they are doing something but it is like putting a finger in a damn that is about to break. Home Depot refuses to lease more servers to handle the traffic. Their call centers are not enough to handle the traffic. The whole issue is time sensitive and Home Depot dragged their feet on this and continue to do this cheaply and SLOWLY and no regulatory group is holding their feet to the fire ONCE AGAIN. How many millions of Americans does it take to get hurt before the government takes action? Well I know Target was at least 70 million or higher and Home Depot is 50 million or higher and all the countless others. I think I need to pay cash from now on and lie online and get those phoney credit cards and pay for all of that since the FTC is asleep at the wheel once again. Contact your state Senators and tell them to vote yes for Senator Markey's and Blumenthal's bill they introduced this past February called The Personal Data Protection and Breach Accountability Act.

Also Senator Markey and Blumenthal sent a letter to the Chairwoman of the FTC, Edith Ramirez on 9-9-14 pleading with the FTC to open an investigation on this Home Depot issue and cited where the FTC has authority on this matter. Right now I tried to file a complaint and there is no category to do that. So typical of the FTC to limit the categories you can complain about. They also did this with the downthrottling with dsl providers and then with more pressure from so many they then provided a category to make complaints. But they drug their feet on this. They are draggin their feet on the data breaches. The FTC doesn't want your complaints on the Home Depot matter and you must write to your Senators and Congress people to get the FTC to listen. When they take these complaints there is a record to prove this is a big issue and it needs to be addressed. Does anyone know Edith Ramirez's email address? YOu can write to her at:
The Honorable Edith Ramirez, Chairwoman
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20580

To file a complaint, visit ftc.gov/complaint. If you don't find a matching category, you can choose "other" to file your complaint. For data breaches, please choose "Identity Theft> My personal information was disclosed due to a company's data breach."

At least tell us where the breach occurred so that we can be more careful or just use cash at those establishments. I received a new card Last week after a breach but BofA won't tell me where - doesn't make since.

So, currently i am going through a huge Identity Theft situation with someone that i thought was my friend. I have called all the places hes used my info at, advised my mobile carrier because hes used my data, filed 2 fraud police reports, spoke to FBI, filed 2 reports witg IC3, hes broke 2 phones by wiping them, and 2 tablets, had to replace abt 5 cim cards, had to go without my wifi because hes used all my data. I guess what im saying here is I feel lost. I have no idea where else to go. No ones doing anything and I think all the points of contact so far are sufice. Its now gotten to the point where im now going to file a police report for stalking and get a lawyer for wiretapping because this guy intercepts phone calls and emails. This guy is EVERYWHERE i am. Someone.....help.....*feeling helpless*

I have a question. I cannot think of a single significant reason NOT to have a credit freeze from the moment your child gets a social security number and also every adult who neglected this should set one up for the self now. What is the downside? It will cost a few dollars to lift it temporarily and take a few hours if you have to lift all three (including time wasted). So what? Why doesn't the FTC just say "do it and protect you and your family"? I don't think you lose much because you can't open a new charge account on a seconds notice (even if they offer you a discount on that purchase). So why not just say "do it"?

A young child may not have a credit report, because he or she hasn't applied for credit yet. Learn how a credit freeze affects existing credit reports in this FTC article: Extended Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes.

It’s a good idea to check whether a child has a credit report close to the child’s 16th birthday. If there is one — and it has errors due to fraud or misuse — you will have time to correct it before the child applies for a job, a loan for tuition or a car, or needs to rent an apartment. This article explains more about Child Identity Theft.

I am being harassed by a man who has been sending false information to various authorities in an attempt to get me in trouble. His most recent effect was to contact me apartment manager and claim that I had unreported income which I had allegedly been paid by him. In the course of verifying his claim (which is completely false), the office provided him with my Social Security number. I am concerned that he may use this for malicious purposes. Does anyone have any suggestions?

If someone has taken your Social Security number, you can take steps to protect yourself. Go to identitytheft.gov to find out how to place a fraud alert on your credit reports, file a complaint with the FTC and report problems to your local police.

I have tried reporting things to my police department here in Woodburn Or. And was to.d it would cost me $25 for initial report and one dollar per page after that. I have collected the information on all the activity that has gone on so far with the use of my identit, but I cannot afford to,pay so much just so they will actually make a file and have my reports on file there. In short they are really not willing to help me. Have also contacted my credit card company about strange charges and more but no one ever gets back to me about what they found or what was done.

This FTC article explains your rights and how to dispute credit card charges.

You can report identity theft to law enforcement at IdentityTheft.gov. That's a free government website. You can give details of what happened. The details create your Identity Theft Affidavit. You'll get a personal plan with steps to follow to repair identity theft.

I am trying to mortage my house and pay off all my debits owed. The mortgage company has requested info from the irs and says that there is a credit freeze on my account. Are they allowed to get this information and if I do have a freeze on it, I don't remember ever putting it there unless it was when Home depot compromised my account. What do I do to remove the freeze and how do I go about doing it? I haven't had much luck trying to get a human to answer my questions.

A freeze remains in place until you ask the credit reporting company to temporarily lift it or remove it altogether. A credit reporting company must lift a freeze no later than three business days after getting your request. The cost to lift a freeze varies by state.

If you opt for a temporary lift because you are applying for credit or a job, and you can find out which credit reporting company the business will contact for your file, you can save some money by lifting the freeze only at that particular company.

For more information, please see Credit Freeze FAQs.

I would like to put a fraud alert on me and my son because all of our personal information been stolen

Please go to identitytheft.gov. You'll find information about placing a fraud alert and getting your credit reports and other important steps to take.

December 22nd 2015 How do I find out if I have a freeze on my account and how do I lift the freeze off my account and how can I find out if my accounts been frozen

To get a freeze on your credit report, you have to contact the nationwide credit reporting companies. You have to ask them to place a freeze. They might charge a fee.

After you get a credit freeze, most companies can't see your credit report. If you want companies to see your credit report, you must tell the credit reporting company to lift the freeze for a time.

This FTC article tells more about credit freezes.

I have a security credit freeze but my security alert expire in January, I need both?

A fraud alert is different from a credit freeze. What will work best for you? Read about a fraud alert and a credit freeze.

A credit alert is free. The alert lasts for 90 days. After 90 days, you can ask the credit reporting company to renew the alert for 90 more days. Companies can see your credit report when you have an alert. The alert makes it harder for a thief to open new accounts with your name.

You might need to pay to get a freeze. If you have a credit freeze, most companies can't see your credit report. If you want to get a loan or a job, you probably have to lift the credit freeze so a business can see your credit report. You might have to pay to lift a freeze.

What can we do about a credit reporting agency that refuses to work with you when there is a problem with identity theft.

My information was frozen without my knowledge or okay at Experian. Had, had a long standing problem with them from years of being told the protection service we had been paying them for were lies.

I believe I am being harassed but cannot get help anywhere. I have tried talking to them, have reported this to the FTC and other consumer advocate agency with no luck. It is time consuming, patience stretching and for me at least almost impossible,e to give them all they demand to get answers or send them the documentation they say they need. I am on disability and handicapped to the point that when I have to talk to these people in an effort to get information about my report and possible fraudulent activity with my ID mother stress is so bad I become very much worse health wise. I can't face them anymore. I have considered ending my life over what these people have pulled. No help. I am told they are too powerful and I would have to spend money I don't have to fight them. Enough already!

If someone is using your personal information, you can get help at IdentityTheft.gov. It is a free government website.

You can report identity theft at IdentityTheft.gov and give details about what happened. You will get a personal recovery plan that has steps to follow to repair identity theft.

You will also get an Identity Theft Affidavit. Take the Affidavit to the police, and get a police report.

Identity theft victims have many rights. Read about your rights and working with credit reporting agencies.

My passport is missing and my old drivers license are missing my nursing license and pharmacy tech license numbers I found copies of and I think my twin sister is fraud entry using my information

You can report identity theft at IdentityTheft.gov. You can create an affidavit and get pre-filled forms and letters to help you resolve problems caused by identity theft.

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