My recommendation has changed. Here are the websites and links and why and how to do it.
By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.
One thing I hafta admit about big American corporations: When they’re exposed to enough hue and cry and get flogged long enough in the media, particularly on WOLF STREET, and get flailed by regulators, Attorneys General, and lawmakers, even as individual and class-action law suits are hailing down on them, they will eventually stop making things worse, and finally do something right.
And it’s a sea change in terms of how easy it is today – thanks to the fallout from Equifax hack in 2017 – to protect your credit and identity from identity theft and other forms of fraud and broader financial and bureaucratic nightmares.
I have always recommended putting a “security freeze” (also called “credit freeze”) on your accounts with the three major credit bureaus in the US — Equifax, Transunion, and Experian – as the most effective way to protect yourself from credit fraud and identity theft. But under the old system, a security freeze was too much hassle and not appropriate for many people. This has changed.
What the heck is a “security freeze?”
A security freeze prevents these credit bureaus from releasing and selling your personal data and credit and financial history that they have gathered over the years.
As part of their business model, credit bureaus sell this data to banks and other firms where you apply for credit, such as a credit card, a mortgage, a personal loan, a cellphone account, or some other form of credit. Your “FICO score” is based on credit bureau data. And they sell some of this data to their “partners” for marketing purposes.
Even the Social Security Administration verifies with Equifax that this is you when you’re trying to set up a my Social Security account online. And yes, definitely do set up that account even if you’re decades away from retirement, before someone else sets one up in your name with data stolen from the Equifax hack.
The Equifax hack was revealed in September 2017. Personal data, including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses of 145 million Americans were stolen, along with driver’s license numbers of 11 million Americans.
Armed with this data, a crook could open credit accounts in these people’s names, borrow money, and leave the people struggling with the consequences, including having to fend off lenders, collection agencies, and lawyers that come chasing after them to collect this debt. Victims then also have a hard time applying for new credit. It’s a horror when it happens.
This Equifax hack and the fallout in the media, including on WOLF STREET, shook up the industry.
Placing a security freeze on your account after the hack could prevent the damage from happening. At the time, I provided information on how to do this. But it was a rapidly changing situation, with changed links, overwhelmed servers, shoddily cobbled-together consumer-facing websites that crashed, unanswered phones, and devious hurdles placed by Equifax to distract consumers from actually placing a security freeze on their accounts. Our readers recounted their frustrations and successes and offered helpful tips in hundreds of comments spread over the articles.
But all this has changed.
It has become super-easy to place a security freeze at the three major credit bureaus, and it’s now free. And it’s super-easy to lift the security freeze when you need credit, and it’s also free.
I just went through the procedure of lifting a security freeze that I had put on my account in 2006 (after the University of Texas had informed me that it had been hacked and that all my data from years earlier, including SS number, had been stolen), and that I had never lifted because it would have been a daunting amount of hassles in previous years, not only to lift the security freeze but then to put it back into place.
Top features of the three major credit bureau websites:
- Functional and easy-to-use.
- It only takes a few minutes.
- Placing or lifting a security freeze is free.
- Placing or lifting a security freeze is effective immediately.
- You can lift a security freeze either indefinitely or for a specified period, such as one day.
- You can place or lift a security freeze any day, any time.
So you can place a security freeze today, and when you need to apply for a credit card next March, you can lift the security freeze, apply for a credit card, and then, once you have the card in hand, you can place the security freeze back on your account, or have it placed back on the account automatically.
Here is what I did, including links:
Equifax: I went to the page myEquifax account. Equifax asked for all kinds of information to verify that this is me, which is good. Security matters. Once the account was set up, I unfroze my credit in about 10 seconds, effective immediately. Now I can log in any time to place or lift the security freeze. Next time, I’ll head straight to the login page.
Experian: I went to the security freeze page, clicked the appropriate of four buttons (“Remove or lift a security freeze”), which took me to the page where I entered my data. This was easy to do and took a couple of minutes. I was not asked to set up an account, so next time, I will likely go through the same sequence again.
The credit bureaus, particularly Equifax, may attempt to sell you a subscription for additional products. I ignore them. They’re totally useless with a security freeze in place — and nothing comes even close to the security of a security freeze.
My recommendation has changed.
I used to recommend that a security freeze was only appropriate for people who have all the credit cards, bank accounts, and other accounts they need, and who don’t expect to move or buy a home or a car anytime soon; and that a security freeze was too much hassle for people who are moving a lot or establishing credit or planning on buying a house, etc.
Now I recommend that just about everyone with easy access to the internet on their own device put a security freeze on all three credit bureaus, given how easy it is to place it and lift it. Why “on their own device?” Because confidential data exchanged during the process stays on the hard-drive of a computer, and on public computers or work computers others can find this data.
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