Reader Frank Wojie of Coppell recalls I published a column about the three credit reporting agencies being required to provide free lifetime security freezes on our credit records in September. He is looking for a follow-up so here goes ...
You are exactly right. The federal law giving us free lifetime security freezes went into effect in September. But I didn’t want to jump on it right away because of the disaster that happened last time.
After the horrible Equifax data breach — the private information of almost 150 million Americans stolen — I informed members of Watchdog Nation how to protect their credit with the three main credit bureaus.
Then I heard from dozens of readers who tried to do what I informed them to do, but they couldn’t because the credit bureau world was in turmoil.
So I decided to give these credit information vultures a month or so to work out the bugs before I share pertinent information about what you can do to protect your family.
A month has passed. Thanks for the reminder, Frank.
Equifax created a mess
The Watchdog still seethes about the Equifax breach. The data theft took place last year in the spring and summer, but Equifax didn’t announce it for weeks.
An Equifax manager pleaded guilty to selling his company stock before the breach became public. He’s sentenced to eight months of home confinement, a $50,000 fine and payment of his $75,000 in stock profits.
A second executive, Jun Ying, the former chief information officer, faces charges of insider stock trading before the company’s announcement of the theft.
He sold more than $1 million in shares, according to a government complaint.
The only good thing to come out of the breach is a new federal law that gives us all a free security freeze for life.
Previously, it could have cost Texans $10 per bureau, so times three bureaus, that could have been $30. No more.
Under the law, a TransUnion spokesman explained to me, credit bureaus must freeze an account within one business day of a request made online or over the phone, and within three business days when notified by mail.
A credit file must be unfrozen within one hour of verified request by phone or online and within three days after receiving a request by mail.
If you decide you want a security freeze — also called a credit freeze — placed on your credit so nobody can gain access to your information unless you “thaw” the freeze, you have to contact each of the three bureaus separately.
I know. A pain. But I timed it and I’ll show you how long it took me. Plus, I’ll show you different ways to do this — by phone, app, online or postal mail.
Why it’s important
With a security freeze, nobody else ought to be able to open a credit account in your name or borrow money pretending to be you.
That’s a big part of identity theft, but you still could get hurt by fraudsters who can hurt you in other ways, such as using your Social Security number to file a false income tax return. But a security freeze goes a long way — or should — toward keeping you out of trouble.
You should consider doing one for each adult in your household, plus your children under age 16.
Most people probably haven’t done this. Some worry about the difficulty of thawing a freeze when you want to open an account. How that works varies with each credit bureau. One uses a phone app. Others use a personal ID number or a code or personal verification questions.
Yes, it might be inconvenient, but it’s nothing like the inconvenience you’ll suffer if somebody opens an account in your name and destroys your credit score.
Oh, and be prepared to give your Social Security number. That’s how you’re known in their world. Besides, they already know that about you, plus every credit account you have and whether you pay your bills on time.
Don’t confuse the freeze with a lock. The credit lock offered by bureaus is unregulated, unlike the freeze, and costs money (except for TransUnion where there’s no charge).
Smart tip: If you’re applying for a loan or opening a charge account, ask which of the credit bureaus they use to check you out, so you only have to thaw that one bureau.
Setting up a freeze
Equifax: Let’s start with the villainous Equifax — http://www.freeze.equifax.com/. You can place a security freeze by creating an online account at Equifax.com. Or call 800-349-9960. There’s also an online form to download for those who prefer the mail.
Time it took me to do it online? Eleven minutes, mostly because of password setup troubles.
Note: The online version of this story has links for these sites. Visit dallasnews.com/watchdog.
TransUnion: TransUnion’s website — freeze.transunion.com — pushes its phone app hard. There’s also an online registration form. But it’s a bit confusing because after searching for phone and mail information, I found a small notation that “consumers are not able to place a protected consumer freeze via phone or online at this time due to the documentation requirements.” Yet there’s no obvious mailing address for consumers.
TransUnion says that at the bottom of its web page you’ll find a “contact us” button where phone, mail and the online link are provided.
TransUnion claims its myTransUnion phone app makes it easier to freeze and thaw your report. The website lists a phone number — 888-909-8872 — where you can manage your freeze by phone.
Time it took me to set up on the phone app? Eleven minutes.
Experian: Experian — Experian.com/freeze/center.html — offers setup online, by phone at 1-888-397-3742 or by mail to Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
Time it took me to set up online? Four minutes.
Innovis: You probably haven’t heard of this credit bureau, but you can put a freeze there, too, by going online — innovis.com/personal/securityFreeze — or calling the company at 1-800-540-2505. Or download a form and mail it to the mailing address at the bottom.
Time it took me to set up online? One minute.
Total time: 27 minutes.
Now I’ll do it for a few more family members.
You should, too.