Data breaches: What’s a person to do?
Recent headlines about data breaches at retail stores and universities may have you wondering if there’s anything you can do to help protect your credit going forward. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, says the answer is yes. One option is a credit freeze. Also known as a security freeze, this tool lets you restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors need to look at your credit report before approving a new account. If they can’t see your file, they may not extend the credit.
To place a freeze on your credit reports, contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You will need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. Fees vary based on where you live, but commonly range from $5 to $10.
A credit freeze does not:
- affect your credit score
- prevent you from getting your free annual credit report
- keep you from opening a new account, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance. If you’re doing any of these, you’ll need to lift the freeze temporarily, either for a specific time, or for a specific party, say, a potential landlord or employer. The cost and lead times to lift a freeze vary, so it’s best to check with the credit reporting company in advance.
- prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. You still need to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.
Learn more about keeping your personal information secure at Privacy and Identity.