A credit freeze may be the best protection against identity theft but only you can determine if it is worth the time and possible expense.
By now you have probably heard that Equifax — one of the three major credit bureaus in the United States — was hacked earlier this year, potentially exposing the personal data of more than 140 million Americans.
In the wake of the breach, many Americans are trying to decide what steps to take to protect themselves from identity theft. Here are three that you might want to consider taking immediately.
Step 1: Pull your report for free through creditkarma.com to make sure no one has opened any fraudulent accounts in your name and to ensure there aren’t any other errors on you report.
Step 2: Consider fee-based monitoring through the credit bureaus or independent providers to make sure you are immediately alerted to suspicious activity. Equifax is providing free monitoring in the wake of its massive breach.
Step 3: The law requires each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion— to provide you with a free copy of your credit report each year. You can get them at annualcreditreport.com. Plan to pull one report every four months in order to keep on top of activity taking place in your name.
Next, consider a credit freeze
While the steps mentioned above are a good start, the only way to ensure new accounts can’t be opened in your name is to freeze your credit with each of the credit bureaus.
In order for a freeze to be effective, it will need to be in place at all three bureaus. You can do this by clicking on the links below.
The drawbacks of a freeze
It is important to know, however, that freezing your credit does have drawbacks. Here are the main ones:
• Equifax is offering free freezes until November 21, 2017 but the other bureaus may charge you up to $10, depending on where you live.
• If you need to grant access to your credit report, you will need to lift the freeze at all three bureaus. This can take up to three days and you may have to pay a fee of as much as $10 per bureau for this also.
• Unfreezing your credit requires the PIN you received when you froze it. If you have trouble keeping track of PINs you use infrequently, this could be a problem.
Is a freeze right for you?
When deciding whether to implement a freeze, the most important factor may be whether you will need to grant access to your credit report in the near future. If you plan to apply for a mortgage, car loan, bank account or even a new job, a credit freeze may be more trouble than it is worth. In this case you may just want to leave your report unfrozen for the time being and regularly monitor your credit.
If you decide to place a freeze on your accounts you will need to be patient as the credit bureaus are currently being overwhelmed by requests. It may take a few weeks to get a freeze in place at all three bureaus.