In light of recent large-scale data breaches, it is more important than ever to know the steps to take to protect your identity. That includes understanding the different alerts and freezes you can request from the major credit reporting agencies.
Here are three things to know about credit alerts and freezes:
An initial fraud alert is free and lasts 90 days.
You can place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting one of the three major credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. The agency you choose is responsible for contacting the other two agencies. This alert will act as a red flag to new creditors that your identity may be at risk and to verify your identity before opening a new credit card, loan, or other financial product in your name.
The initial fraud alert will stay on your credit report for 90 days but can be renewed indefinitely. The alert is free, will not affect your credit score, and will make it more difficult for someone to open credit in your name. You do not have to be a victim of identity theft to place an initial fraud alert.
An extended fraud alert can help protect identity theft victims.
An extended fraud alert is typically available only to identity theft victims. The extended fraud alert is free, will not affect your credit score, and will essentially act like an initial fraud alert but for a period of seven years.
When you have placed an extended fraud alert, you are eligible to receive two free credit reports from each of the credit reporting agencies within 12 months of placing the alert. (Note: If you have asked a credit reporting agency to make corrections to your credit report, it can take up to 90 days for the agency to make changes.)
Also, with an extended fraud alert, your name will be removed from credit card companies’ marketing lists, so you won’t receive prescreened credit card offers for five years (unless you wish to add yourself back to those lists).
A credit freeze helps “lock” your credit and may cost $5 per freeze.
In Ohio, you can place a credit freeze on your credit report with any or all three major credit reporting agencies. Parents also can freeze their child’s credit record to help guard against child identity theft.
A credit freeze essentially puts a lock on your credit, so new creditors can’t access your reports. This helps protect you from unauthorized accounts being opened in your name. A credit freeze does not block unauthorized charges to your existing credit cards, so it’s still vital to closely review your account statements. Existing creditors – and debt collectors working on their behalf – can still access your credit reports.
Placing a credit freeze on your account also entitles you to one additional free credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies from which you have requested a freeze.
You do not have to be a victim of identity theft to institute a credit freeze, and a freeze will not impact your credit score.
In Ohio, security freezes are permanent until you lift them. You can be charged a $5 fee per credit reporting agency to place or remove a freeze. This fee is waived for victims of identity theft, and currently Equifax is waiving the $5 credit freeze fee. To freeze your report you must contact each credit reporting agency individually.
Some credit reporting agencies currently offer or plan to offer their own products that contain a “lock” feature designed to block access to your credit report. It is important to evaluate these products with the understanding that, unlike credit freezes, they are not specifically regulated by state law.
Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.