Since the Equifax breach news broke, you’ve probably been inundated with advice from lower the lifeboats to circle the wagons as the best way to protect your credit reports and scores. If your head is spinning trying to discern the differences between a fraud alert, security freeze/credit freeze, a credit lock – you are not alone.
To better protect yourself against the long-term threat of identity theft posed by this historic data hack, first you need a clear understanding of what your options are – and the potential pros and cons of each.
A Fraud Alert is a free notice flagged on your credit reports that lets lenders know that they should take extra precautions and contact you (at your work, home or on your cell phone—whichever you list on the alert) to verify your identity and get approval before opening any new credit in your name. An initial Fraud Alert will be active for 90 days – and can be renewed for another 90 days after the initial Fraud Alert expires. You can also apply for a 7-year victim statement that will keep the Fraud Alert active for seven years. If you suspect or know that you’re a victim of identity theft, activating a Fraud Alert with TransUnion, Equifax and Experian is a great first step to protect your credit and identity.
PROS: A Fraud Alert is free to activate and will not cause any problems with your current credit card, bank or credit accounts because it only focuses on new credit accounts, not the ones you already have.
CONS: Fraud Alerts are not a cure-all and can be ignored by creditors. Because you must be contacted before any new lines of credit can go through, there could be some delays in your ability to get immediate credit approval.
A Security Freeze (also called a Credit Freeze) prevents any potential new creditor – whether that’s a bank, mortgage lender, credit card company or auto loan firm – from pulling your credit reports from TransUnion, Equifax or Experian, period. Only those you specifically name will be authorized to view your reports.
PROS: Putting a Security Freeze on your credit reports is easy and can be done online, by phone or by snail mail, and usually takes effect within hours of receipt. You can request to remove a freeze either permanently or temporarily (a thaw) – and you determine the duration of the thaw. Your request to remove or “thaw” a Security Freeze has to be honored within three business days, but typically happens within hours of receipt or by the next day.
CONS: Security Freezes do not protect against current account fraud or other forms of identity fraud including medical identity theft, pension fraud and fraudulent income tax refund filings. Note that minimal charges for initiating, removing or thawing a freeze may vary from state to state for people who are not vicitms of identity theft.
A Credit Lock is a fee-based service that enables you to lock and unlock access to your credit report (much like a Security Freeze). But unlike a Security Freeze, a Credit Lock doesn’t require the extra security measure of having you verify your identity to make changes to your Credit Lock status. A Credit Lock service will stay active for as long as you pay for it.
PROS: As with a Security Freeze, a Credit Lock enables you to designate people and companies you want to have access to your credit report.
CONS: A Credit Lock does not protect against current account fraud or other forms of identity fraud including medical identity theft, pension fraud and fraudulent income tax refund filings. Because each credit bureau charges a fee for this service, having a Credit Lock on each of your credit reports from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian can get costly.
Whether you decide to flag it, freeze it, lock it or a combination of all three – it starts with monitoring your credit profile and regular reviews of all three of your credit reports for unusual activity. With data attacks and identity theft becoming more sophisticated and more prevalent, early detection is critical.
The cost of leaving your personal credit information unattended is simply too high. At ScoreSense®, we’re ready to help you take the steps needed to protect yourself.