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Month after month, reports of data breaches saturate the news. In today’s day and age, you can never be too safe with your personal and financial information.
In fact, more than 1 billion records have been exposed since the Identity Theft Resource Center began tracking and compiling statistics in 2005. Perhaps more alarming, despite these major breaches, just 14 percent of adults have frozen their credit for protection, according to an AARP survey.
A new change to federal law means it’s now free to freeze your credit and temporarily lift the freeze (or “thaw” your credit). It used to cost $5 for each freeze and “thaw.”
“An individual’s credit history is important for nearly all types of borrowing,” says Tom Scheid, branch manager at Bell’s headquarters in Fargo, N.D. “As we learn of new security breaches, we definitely see more inquiries about how customers can protect themselves. Everyone’s situation is different, but it’s important that all are aware of potential risk and what actions they can take for personal security.”
Because most creditors need to view your credit report before opening a new account, a credit freeze helps prevent thieves from opening new credit and charge accounts in your name.
To fully protect your credit, you must place a credit freeze through all 3 credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax.
Luckily, the process takes less than 5 minutes per bureau. To do so, you will need to provide your full name, date of birth, Social Security number and current billing address. (In some cases, you may also need to provide a previous address, copy of your driver’s license and recent utility bill.)
Parents can also freeze their child’s credit, if the child is under 16 years old. Learn more at consumer.ftc.gov.
When applying for the credit freeze, you will be given or asked to choose a (PIN) for each freeze you place. The PIN is used to temporarily lift the freeze when you want to apply for a loan or new line of credit.
If you request a credit thaw online or by phone, credit bureaus must lift it within one hour. (If you chose to submit via mail, the bureau has 3 business days after receiving your request to lift the freeze.)
“It is wise to meet with a Bell lender and get a good understanding of the loan application process before having a credit freeze lifted,” Tom says. “Once a customer is comfortable with the process, I would recommend lifting the freeze a day or 2 prior to the credit inquiry.”
A credit freeze does not affect your credit score or prevent you from receiving your annual credit report. It also doesn’t prevent a thief from making changes to existing accounts – only from opening new accounts in your name. That’s why even with a credit freeze, you should regularly monitor your bank and credit card accounts and insurance statements.
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