March 4, 2019
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Identity theft is a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon. Last year we saw a record 781 data breaches, putting people’s credit card and social security numbers in the hands of hackers and thieves. Identity theft can have serious consequences for your savings and your credit. Some believe that freezing your credit is an effective way to prevent identity theft before losses occur, but this method is far from perfect.
First of all, credit freezes usually come with a fee. In Pennsylvania, for example, you are charged $10 for every freeze or thaw. This includes partial thaws to allow specific parties access to your information. Setting up access for those specific parties can take time, and the inability to access your credit information could result in higher interest rates when applying for loans or mortgages. What’s more, a freeze does not protect you from from all forms of identity theft. Family members or other people close to you could access your personal information in your home, on your phone, or on your computer and use it to access your credit – even if it’s frozen.
Thankfully, there are alternatives to the credit freeze that can help you protect your identity without these hassles.
Take Security Into Your Own Hands
While the big data breaches that you hear about on the news are a legitimate concern, family members and other acquaintances can be a bigger threat to your personal data. You may think nothing of them having access to your personal computer or smartphone, or leaving bills and bank statements out in plain view around them. These seemingly innocuous moments can become quite costly.
Instead of questioning whether you can trust your loved ones, actively protect your information whenever you can. Keep your personal documents in a secure place, and shred those you no longer need. Protect your digital devices with a variety of strong passwords, which you frequently change. This will help keep you safe from a variety of threats.
Instead of completely freezing your credit, you can contact one of the credit bureaus to set up a 90-day fraud alert. With this alert active, lenders are required to receive additional verification to ensure credit or loan applicants claiming to be you are who they claim to be. This way, identity thieves must go to greater lengths to benefit from your information.
This method presents its own difficulties, as the alert needs to be renewed every 90 days. It’s also not perfect; if an identity thief has stolen an unusually large amount of your information, they could get around the extra verification steps. However, if you’ve taken precautions to guard that information, you are able to access your credit without the difficulties presented by a freeze.
Know Your Rights
If you do fall victim to identity theft, you have protections under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Act requires data furnishers and the credit reporting agencies to have systems in place to remove accounts from consumers credit reports related to identity theft. Additionally, the IRS and FTC have resources and/or hotlines to help victims.
If your credit has been impacted by identity theft and put you into debt, these resources can help you recover when combined with sound legal counsel. Call us to discuss your options and move back toward healthy credit.