Last week, Equifax announced it suffered a massive data breach, releasing the personal information of over 140 million people. The best action to protect yourself from identity theft is one of the easiest; freeze your credit.
Freezing credit prevents identity theft because the purpose of the theft is generally to open credit in the victim’s name. Under a credit freeze, even if a thief is able to obtain your identification, they’ll be declined when they attempt to open new credit accounts in your name.
Freezing your credit is actually quite easy and very affordable. For full protection, credit must be frozen at each of the three credit bureaus. You can make the request online or via mail. Each spouse must complete these actions at each credit bureau for both to be protected.
The cost to freeze credit at each bureau is different depending on the state. In Georgia, the fee is $3 per freeze. If you reside in another state, it can range from $0 – $10 per freeze. For a couple in Georgia, the total expenditure is $18. Additionally, in Georgia as well as many other states, credit freezes are free for those 65 and older.
- Go to https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
- Enter your information.
- Choose “Place” a security freeze.
- Confirm the action and pay the fee.
- You will receive a PIN. Keep the PIN in a secure place.
- Go to https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp
- Choose “Place a Security Freeze.”
- Open an account and confirm your identity.
- Pay the fee.
- You will be able to choose your own PIN or have it generated for you. Keep the PIN in a secure place.
- Go to https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
- Enter your information. Also, at the bottom of this section, you have the option to create your own PIN or have one generated for you.
- Review the order and pay the fee.
- Verify your identity and receive your PIN. Keep the PIN in a secure place.
Of course, there will be times when you need to access your credit. When this happens, you can request a “thaw” that requires you to provide your PIN and pay a small fee (usually the same amount you paid to freeze your credit). Once you do so, your credit will become available for a specified amount of time or indefinitely, depending on which you choose.
Although freezing your credit will keep people from opening new accounts in your name, it will not keep people from making charges on your current credit cards. Therefore, we recommend reviewing every statement you receive carefully for charges you did not make. Credit monitoring systems are reactive, meaning that information only presents itself if something has already happened. This is why we recommend a credit freeze versus credit monitoring. If you do want to have a credit monitoring system, then check out Credit Karma as they provide it for free. Remember though, the best recommendation we have is to freeze your credit as it is the most proactive way to avoid identity theft.
RACHAEL NEIL, CFP®
CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER