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What to Do If You Think Your Mortgage Data Was Breached

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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This week, the online technology publication TechCrunch reported that millions of pages of mortgage loan documents were leaked online. More than a decade’s worth of data may have been affected, giving identity thieves access to financially sensitive documentation about every aspect of a consumer’s income, credit and assets.

The incident makes clear one potential downside of the industry’s inexorable move online. Mortgage companies have been scrambling to keep up with consumer demand for a fully digital mortgage experience. The convenience of allowing lenders access to bank records, employment and income history, and credit information electronically may save time and stress in the mortgage approval process.

However, one of the downsides to all of this digital simplicity is the risk a cybersecurity breach could give a hacker access to all of your financial data in one place.

Knowing what to do and what not to do are essential in preventing identity thieves from using any of your personal information to obtain new credit. You also need to know how to spot scammers that will try to take advantage of consumer fear and confusion to promote bogus services.

The first thing to do if your data was compromised

Beware of incoming phone calls

Do not provide any sensitive information over the phone to anyone who calls regarding your credit card or loan accounts, or anything having to do with your bank. Insist on getting a call back number and call them back — if they aren’t for real, they will probably hang up as soon as you ask for their contact information.

The FTC suggests you “don’t believe your caller ID.” Sophisticated scammers can create a “spoof” phone number that shows up on your caller ID in the name of your bank or credit card company, but is really a con artist trying to take advantage of you.

Do not open emails or answer texts from anyone claiming to be related to the recent data breach. If you receive such electronic communication, contact the creditor or bank immediately and ask for their security department to confirm if the correspondence is legitimate.

The IRS will not call you to confirm your personal information. The IRS recommends that companies experiencing a data breach send you a letter explaining what happened, what you can do to safeguard your credit and identity and how to follow up with them.

Any conversations that you have with creditors or banks should be initiated by you, using contact information you have on credit card and bank statements that you already have on file.

How to protect your accounts

Change your passwords on any account that has online access

There is information suggesting the most recent mortgage data breach may have included public access to passwords and user IDs for a variety of different financial accounts. Change your user ID and passwords to your online bank accounts and any credit accounts that you access online.

Track your bank and credit card balances, and notify your bank or credit card company immediately if you see any unusual charges or withdrawals.

Subscribe to a credit monitoring service

Your bank or an online credit monitoring service will provide up-to-date information about any new inquiries made. If you see unusual activity, then you may want to follow one of the steps below to activate a credit freeze with all of the credit bureaus so no new credit can be opened without direct contact with you.

What to do if you see signs of identity theft

If you have evidence that new credit accounts are being opened, or if someone has accessed your bank account, there are several steps you need to take to notify authorities and fraud departments at your bank and creditors.

Call your bank first, brokerage accounts second

You need to make sure that your assets are not liquidated, so contact your bank immediately. Most banks have fraud protection measures in place to replace any stolen money quickly. The sooner you contact the bank, preferably in person, the quicker a report can be filed, your old account can be closed and a new one is opened.

Brokerage accounts don’t have the same identity-theft protections that bank accounts do. If you have mutual funds, IRAs or 401ks, you should contact the brokerage. If you do see any suspicious activity, you’ll also want to contact the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Contact your creditors next

Credit card companies have fraud and identity-theft departments. This information is often on the back of your credit cards so contact them immediately to let them know your information has been used without your authorization. They may need you to fill out police reports, and provide additional follow-up as the fraud department investigates your claim.

Make sure you contact the IRS

It may not be top of mind, but come tax time, you may get an unpleasant surprise if you learn someone filed a tax return on your behalf. This happened during the 2017 Equifax breach — because returns are filed electronically now, it’s much easier for an identity thief to try to get a tax refund using your identification information.

Consider putting a fraud alert on your credit

The Federal Trade Commission recommends putting a credit freeze on your credit if you suspect or are in the process of an investigation into identity theft of your personal information. You will need to validate any new credit requests that you make and some lenders, especially mortgage companies, will need you to release the freeze if you try to apply for a home loan in the future.

If you haven’t actually experienced any fraud but have been notified by a company that you did business with that they experienced a breach of data, then you might want to start with a fraud alert. Unlike a credit freeze, a fraud alert allows your credit information to be accessed, but it lets any creditors know that you suspect or are concerned that your information may have been compromised.

Put everything in writing

You’ll want to have a date-stamped written record of all communications, in case you up needing to take legal action to recover your losses. Police and federal investigators may need this correspondence to pursue investigations against identity-theft criminals.

The FTC also has an identity-theft affidavit that can be completed and provided to law enforcement.

Watch out for signs of breach scams

Impostor scammers

Impostor scammers will try to play on fear and confusion by creating schemes to defraud you out of money for extra security services or even lawsuits representing your interests and promising large payouts if you’ll just join their list. They may call, email, send letters or even knock on your door claiming to be law enforcement or an agent of a federal agency.

If anyone tries to charge you an upfront fee of any kind to protect you from further breaches, or to include you in any kind of legal action, hang up the phone and contact the authorities. Given the size of this mortgage breach, you’ll want to sign up for the Federal Trade Commission’s scam alert service to find out if there is a pattern of new scams related to this leak.

Bogus mortgage servicing transfer letters or phone calls

Because data was accessed from companies that service mortgage loans, hackers may send you notices of a transfer of servicing and tell you to make your payments to a new mortgage company or location. Use your recent mortgage statement to contact your current mortgage company if you get any notices.

Also, be sure to file a complaint and provide a copy of the email or mail correspondence to the authorities if they request it.

Be prepared to monitor your credit and assets frequently

The FTC provides excellent resources regarding what to do if you are a victim of identity theft.

Identity thieves may wait a while to use your data. The info you provided to get your mortgage provides a great deal of detail about your financial profile, which means a scammer can impersonate you for many types of online credit and financial transactions.

By giving notice to your creditors, banks and the IRS, they will at least be on notice to watch for activity. Their correspondence should be in writing and provide you with verifiable contact numbers for any information requests.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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Identity Theft Protection

How to Freeze a Credit Report After Someone Dies

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy. While loss is a natural part of life and we may expect it, death often overwhelms us with shock, depression and confusion. Sadly, when you’re in this vulnerable state, there are identity thieves looking to prey on your dulled awareness. They do so by stealing the identity of the deceased and fraudulently opening credit card accounts, applying for loans and obtaining service contracts.

This concept, called “ghosting,” is a widespread problem. There hasn’t been a lot of research on the issue, but one study estimates that, the identities of approximately 2.5 million deceased Americans are used fraudulently each year. Of those, almost 800,000 are deliberately targeted cases.

Why it’s important to freeze someone’s credit after they die

Many identity thieves are practiced in using the dead’s information for their own financial gain. Coping with the loss of a family member is difficult, but it can be exacerbated by dealing with the fallout of identity fraud.

Criminals who deliberately target the departed know that it takes time for financial organizations and credit reporting agencies to process death notices and update their records, leaving open a window of opportunity for fraud.

With the recent Equifax breach, people may be more aware of their credit situation than in the past. However, a survey taken shortly after the Equifax breach by CompareCards.com (which, like MagnifyMoney, is a subsidiary of LendingTree) shows that approximately 78 percent of people did not freeze their credit after the breach. People are largely aware of the negative impact that identity theft can have, but a large portion of the American population neglects to take the next steps necessary to protect themselves.

Luckily, the steps to take to protect your loved one’s identity are clear and relatively simple to follow.

How to report a death to the credit bureaus

The Social Security Administration (SSA) states that, in most cases, the funeral director will notify the administration of a person’s death. To ensure this, you must give the deceased’s Social Security number to the funeral director. From there, credit reporting agencies and lenders will be informed of the person’s passing, and they’ll automatically put a death notice or alert on their credit.

To expedite the process, it is suggested that loved ones who are close to the deceased (typically a spouse or child) take matters into their own hands to get a death notice placed on their departed family member’s credit reports at the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This will involve submitting a death certificate, and the Identity Theft Resource center recommends requesting 12 copies of the certificate for such purposes (some institutions may require an original, rather than a photocopy).

Carrie Kerskie, an identity theft expert and director of the Identity Fraud Institute at Hodges University says you should contact the credit bureaus, but knowing the right verbiage is key. “Instead of requesting a freeze, one would request a death alert,” she said. “It is similar to a freeze, except a freeze could be lifted with a PIN. A death alert cannot.”

The easiest way to update that person’s credit account is to have a relative or executor send letters to each of the three credit national reporting agencies, according to Equifax.

The writer should include the following information about the deceased in their letter:

  • Legal name
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Copy of death certificate or letters testamentary

They’ll also want to include:

  • The letter-writer or executor’s full name
  • Their address for sending final confirmation
  • Proof you’re the executor, if applicable

David Blumberg, director of public relations for TransUnion, added, “Our industry policy is that the receiving credit reporting company will notify the other two so they can update their records as well.”

Still, to be safe, mail this information to each of the three credit reporting agencies. Their mailing addresses are:

TransUnion
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016

Experian
P.O. Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013

Equifax
P.O. Box 105139
Atlanta, GA 30348-5139

Kerskie advises that people going through this process prepare to provide proof of relationship along with the death certificate they’re submitting. “This could be a marriage license or court papers,” she said.

What’s the fastest option?

When speed is of the essence in beating potential fraudsters, mailing is certainly not your fastest option. Experian offers a solution: Submit the death certificate and death notice request online by uploading the documents directly to its system. Once it receives the information, Experian will add the deceased indicator and permanently remove the person’s name from any future mailing lists for preapproved offers.

Equifax also offers two speedier options – email a copy of the death certificate to [email protected] or fax your records to (888) 826-0727. It should be noted that email isn’t a secure way to submit this personal information (especially in light of the fact that you’re working to prevent identity theft).

While TransUnion doesn’t have a streamlined online tool or fax offering, they do advise family members or executors to call (800) 680-7289 for more assistance. If you need any help requesting that a death alert be placed on a deceased’s account, your first action should be to contact the bureaus directly.

Other things to do besides reporting the death

Although going through the process of contacting credit reporting agencies may seem like a hassle, your to-do list doesn’t end here. In addition to notifying the credit bureaus of the death, you should also request a copy of the person’s credit report. The Identity Theft Resource Center provides a form you can use to request the reports.This will help you to better understand what accounts are open, and it can help you spot suspicious activity. Should you face the worst-case scenario and your loved one’s identity is stolen, this will also help you to prove what charges the thieves have incurred.

Additionally, while it’s common for funeral directors to assist you in reporting a loved one’s death to the Social Security Administration, it behooves you to ensure this has been done. The easiest way to contact the SSA is online, but you can also call them toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 or at their TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.

Other items for your list:

  • Be proactive and let the deceased’s various financial institutions and account holders know about their death. Reach out to banks, insurers, brokerages, lenders, mortgage companies and credit card companies by mailing them copies of the death certificate. Kerskie recommends sending these things by certified mail and request a return receipt to ensure the safety of the personal information you’re sending.
  • Limit the amount of personal information that’s released to the public. Identity thieves often gain access through obituaries that list dates of birth, death, full legal names and addresses.
  • Consider changing the deceased’s address to forward to a loved one’s home or an executor’s place of business. Identity thieves sometimes steal personal information out of a deceased person’s mail box.
  • Don’t forget to file the deceased’s final tax return.

How to resolve identity theft of a deceased person

Resolving identity theft of a deceased person follows many of the same steps you would proactively take to prevent it: Request a copy of the credit reports from the three major credit bureaus, request a death notice on that person’s credit and notify creditors of the person’s death. If fraud has occurred, there’s an extra step: The Identity Theft Resource Center advises you to contact the police in the jurisdiction of the deceased with evidence of fraud. This might be a collection notice you’ve received on the deceased’s behalf, or a credit report showing fraudulent activity.

It’s important to remember that you should not be held accountable for fraudulent debt that’s racked up in the name of your deceased relative. While this may not provide any emotional consolation as you’re going through this process, it should help to relieve some of the money-related stress you’re experiencing.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Dave Grant
Dave Grant |

Dave Grant is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dave at [email protected]

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The Guide to Freezing and Thawing Your Credit Report

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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The recent Equifax data breach that exposed the names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers of about 44 percent of the current American population has many consumers now rushing to freeze their credit scores. However, many consumers may not grasp what that really entails.

In a recent survey by CompareCards.com, a subsidiary of MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree.com, 78 percent of respondents said they had never put a freeze on their credit reports.

When you freeze and thaw your report, you are preventing anyone else from opening a credit account under your name without your knowledge. It’s a smart way to defend yourself against some cases of identity theft. Massive data breaches like the one that hit Equifax are stark reminders of the importance of protecting sensitive information from potential fraudsters, but that doesn’t mean you should wait until your information is compromised in a data breach to act.

“We should all be vigilant,” says Eva Velasquez, president of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “Being vigilant about your identity is just a part of the world that we live in. If being involved in a data breach is the catalyst that brings that to the top of your mind, then we can see that as a positive.”

What a credit freeze does — and doesn’t — accomplish

A credit freeze, or security freeze, is a tool consumers can use to restrict access to their credit reports. The freeze makes it harder for criminals to commit financial fraud using your information.

The freeze seals your credit reports so that new requests won’t be processed without your approval. You will need to use a personal identification number — only you will know it — to lift or thaw the freeze before creditors can again have access to your credit report. A freeze adds a layer of security, since most creditors won’t extend new credit without seeing your report.

You will need to request a credit freeze with each of the big three reporting bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — for the freeze to have the biggest impact.

Freezing your credit report will NOT:

  • Impact your credit score
    • A credit freeze will have no impact whatsoever on your credit score. Freezing your credit will neither raise nor lower your score.
  • Restrict existing creditors’ access to your report
    • Your current creditors, government agencies or debt collectors acting on behalf of those parties will still have access to your credit report if you freeze it.
  • Keep you from opening new credit
    • You will still be able to use your credit report to do things like open a new credit account, apply for a mortgage, rent an apartment or take any other action that calls for a credit check. But you’ll need to lift the temporary freeze before lenders can gain access to the report. If you know you’ll be doing any of those activities, you can temporarily lift the freeze for a certain party or a length of time, but it may cost you money to do so.
  • Prevent a criminal from committing fraud involving your existing accounts.
    • Freezing your credit report won’t prevent you, or any would-be thieves, from using your existing credit accounts. You will still need to vigilantly monitor all of your personal bank, credit and insurance accounts for fraudulent transactions or other signs of fraudulent activity.
  • Stop you from receiving prescreened credit offers
    • Freezing your credit report won’t stop lenders from sending you prescreened credit offers, as they prequalify new customers using a “soft pull.” A soft pull doesn’t show up on your credit report or harm your credit score. Banks buy the names of people who meet their credit criteria from credit bureaus to create their prequalification lists. So when you are prequalified, it just means you’re on a list somewhere. If you want to stop receiving such credit offers, call 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or ask to be excluded here.
  • Protect you from all forms of ID theft
    • A credit freeze can help to prevent financial fraud, but it will still leave you vulnerable to many other kinds of fraud. When criminals obtain important and sensitive information like your Social Security number as they did in the Equifax breach, they can use this data to commit criminal, medical, tax and employment theft, too. For example, a thief could use your Social Security number to file a tax return and claim a fraudulent refund, or use your personal information to obtain medical care or employment without your knowledge. Remain vigilant to protect yourself from other forms of fraud. Pay careful attention to any mail or phone calls from a medical office, government agency or other entity. They may be reaching out to verify your identity or report that someone else is attempting to commit fraud in your name.

How to freeze your credit report

You must go through a separate process with each of the three major credit bureaus to freeze your credit report.

Equifax

Equifax ID PatrolTM You can freeze your Equifax credit report online, by phone or by mail.

  • Online: In a statement issued in The Wall Street Journal on Sept. 27, Equifax said it would offer a new service that permanently allows consumers to lock and unlock their credit reports for free. The service is set to debut by Jan. 31, 2018.

    In the meantime, you can still freeze your Equifax score the traditional way, by visiting the Equifax security freeze site. You will first need to fill out a form with your personal information, then make any payment required by your state. Equifax’s site may be experiencing high traffic as a result of the recent breach, so it may not be able to process your request right away. If that is the case, try one of the other methods or try again online in a day or two.

  • Phone: Call 1-800-685-1111 (New York residents call 1-800-349-9960), and you should be connected with an Equifax representative who will verify your personal information and assist you with your credit freeze request.
  • Mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail. If you’re a victim of identity theft, this is the channel you will need to use; your request must be submitted in writing with relevant documents, like a police report or other documented proof of theft, to have your fee waived. Write a letter to the reporting agency requesting the credit request and send it to the following address: Equifax Security Freeze/P.O. Box 105788/Atlanta, GA 30348

TransUnion

TrueIdentity You can freeze your credit TransUnion report online, by phone or mail, or by using TrueIdentity,

  • Online: Go to the TransUnion security freeze site. You will need to log in or create a TransUnion account before you can submit your request online.
  • Phone: Call 1-888-909-8872 and a TransUnion representative should verify your personal information and assist you with your credit freeze request.
  • Mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail. Write a letter to the reporting agency requesting the credit request and send it to the following address: TransUnion LLC/P.O. Box 2000/Chester, PA 19016
  • TrueIdentity: TransUnion offers a free credit report monitoring service called TrueIdentity. The service allows users to lock and unlock their credit report with a swipe on their mobile device or a click online. It gives access to unlimited TransUnion Credit report refreshes, and alerts you if an entity pulls your TransUnion credit report.

Experian

Experian You can freeze your Equifax credit report online, by phone or by mail.

  • Online: Go to the Experian security freeze site. Select “add a security freeze,” then “apply online” and you’ll be redirected to a form requesting your personal information. Submit the form and make any payment required by your state to freeze your report.
  • Phone: 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742). Press 2 to be guided through prompts to request a security freeze.
  • Mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail. Write a letter to Experian requesting the credit request and send it to the following address: Experian Security Freeze/P.O. Box 9554/Allen, TX 75013

How to thaw your credit report with each agency

Equifax

You can temporarily thaw your Equifax credit report via mail, online Equifax's security freeze site, or by calling 1-800-685-1111. (New York residents dial 1-800-349-9960.) Send mailed requests to the following address:
Equifax Security Freeze/P.O. Box 105788/Atlanta, GA 30348

TransUnion

You can temporarily thaw your TransUnion credit freeze by mail, online or via TransUnion’s credit freeze site, or by calling 1-888-909-8872. Send mailed requests to the following address: TransUnion LLC/P.O. Box 2000/Chester, PA 19016

Experian

You can temporarily thaw your Experian credit report by mail, online via Experian’s security freeze site, or by calling 1-888-397-3742. Send mailed requests to the following address:
Experian/P.O. Box 9554/Allen, TX. 75013

How much a credit freeze will cost you — by state

The protection isn’t free. Each time you freeze your report, temporarily lift a freeze or permanently end one, you may have to pay a fee. In the wake of the Equifax hack, consumer advocacy groups and some lawmakers have renewed their efforts to allow data breach victims to sign up for free credit freezes in their states.

“It is outrageous that the credit bureaus charge us fees to prevent identity theft when we didn’t even give them permission to collect our information in the first place,” Mike Litt, a consumer program advocate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said in a statement a little over a week after the Equifax data breach was made public.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced the Freedom from Equifax Exploitation (FREE) Act on the same day. The act is intended to make actions related to freezing credit reports free for all consumers nationwide.

Until the proposed act wends its way through both houses of Congress, the amount you may pay to freeze, thaw or permanently end a credit freeze will vary from state to state and may be up to $10.

The majority of states have laws in place that cap the amount a credit reporting agency is permitted to charge consumers to freeze, lift, or thaw their credit reports. A U.S. PIRG analysis released shortly after the breach found only four states — Indiana, Maine, North Carolina, and South Carolina— have laws in place that provide free credit freezes, thaws, or lifts for their citizens. The analysis found an additional four states provide free freezes, but charge for thaws.

There is a silver lining for some. If you can present documentation showing you are a victim of identity theft at the time you place a freeze on your credit, most states will waive fees.

You can check what your state will charge you for each action below. Multiply the amount by three because you will need to pay each credit bureau.

In a Sept. 15, 2017, statement addressing the recent breach, Equifax said it would waive security freeze fees for all consumers through Nov. 21 and refund those who have paid to place or remove a credit freeze since 5 p.m. on Sept. 7, just after the breach was announced.

Nearly every state has legally identified definitions of a “protected consumer,” which may be a minor, an elderly citizen, a service member, a spouse of a victim of ID theft, a medically incapacitated person or some other distinction. Depending on the state, a protected consumer may pay a different amount or have his or her fee waived. The National Conference of State Legislators has more information on whom each state counts as a protected consumer, here.

State

Consumer Category

Freeze

Thaw

End Freeze

Alabama

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

$10

$10

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Alaska

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$2

$2

Arizona

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

n/a

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Arkansas

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

$5

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

California

Protected Consumer

$10

n/a

$10

Minor <16

free

n/a

free

Senior (65+)

free

free

$5

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Colorado

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$12

$12

Connecticut

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Delaware

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

$5

free

free

All other consumers

$10

free

free

District of Columbia

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

free

free

Florida

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

n/a

free

Senior (65+)

free

n/a

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Georgia

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 16

free

n/a

free

Senior (65+)

free

$3

$3

All other consumers

$3

$3

$3

Hawaii

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Idaho

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$6

$6

$6

Illinois

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 18

n/a

n/a

n/a

Senior (65+)

free

$10

free

Active-duty military

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Indiana

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

free

free

All other consumers

free

free

free

Iowa

Victim of ID theft

free

n/a

n/a

All other consumers

$10

$12

$12

Kansas

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Kentucky**

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Louisiana

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

$10

n/a

n/a

Senior (62+)

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

n/a

n/a

Maine

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

free

free

All other consumers

free

free

free

Maryland

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 16

n/a

n/a

n/a

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Massachusetts

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

n/a

n/a

n/a

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Michigan

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

n/a

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Minnesota

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Mississippi

Victim of ID theft

n/a

n/a

n/a

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Missouri

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

free

Montana

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$3

$3

free

Nebraska

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 16

free

free

free

All other consumers

$3

$3

$3

Nevada

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

New Hampshire

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

n/a

$10

New Jersey

Victim of ID theft

free

$5

$5

All other consumers

free

$5

$5

New Mexico

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$5

$5

New York

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

free

free

All other consumers

free

n/a

$5

North Carolina

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Spouse of ID Theft Victim

free

free

free

Minor < 16 if file must be created

$5

n/a

$5

Senior (62+)

free

free

free

Other consumers

free

free

free

North Dakota

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

n/a

Ohio

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Oklahoma

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Oregon

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 16

free

n/a

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Pennsylvania**

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

$10

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

free

Rhode Island

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

South Carolina

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

free

free

All other consumers

free

free

free

South Dakota**

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 16 if file must be created, or Protected Consumers

$5

n/a

n/a

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Tennessee

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 16

$10

n/a

$10

All other consumers

$7.50

free

$5

Texas

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free (fee applicable if record must be created)

n/a

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Utah

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Vermont

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$5

$5

Virginia

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

n/a

free

All other consumers

$10

free

free

Washington

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

West Virginia

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Wisconsin

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Non-victims

$10

$10

free

Wyoming

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Sources: Consumersunion.org Transunion.com NCSL.org
**In Kentucky, Pennsylvania and South Dakota,  security freezes expire after seven years.

When a credit freeze makes sense — and when it doesn’t

You should freeze your credit report when you are in danger of financial or identity fraud.

Eva Velasquez, of the Identity Theft Resource Center, says consumers should consider freezing their reports if they are victims of identity theft or at an increased risk of having their information misused for identity theft because of lost or stolen items.

Consumers might also consider a credit freeze “if their personal information, specifically their Social Security number, is compromised in some way, like in that of a data breach,” says Velasquez.

Freezing your report is an important consumer protection you can and sometimes should take advantage of as a general consumer. However, there are several occasions when you may not want to freeze your credit.

  • You are planning to open a new line of credit (credit card, mortgage, etc.) in the near future.
  • You work for a company that requires a regular background check or access to your credit report.
  • You regularly open new accounts with financial institutions.

Ultimately, if you are not in danger of ID theft, the decision to freeze or unfreeze your credit report depends on whether or not you’re willing to go through the inconvenience and cost of unfreezing and refreezing each time an entity you approve of wants access to your credit report. If you want a more convenient way to monitor use of your credit report, you may want to consider placement of a credit fraud alert instead of the freeze, as explained below.

Pros and cons of freezing your credit report

Pros:

  • Locks your credit report
    The most obvious benefit you’d get from freezing all of your credit reports is an additional layer of protection. Only you can permit a lender or other entity to receive your full, detailed credit report. You’ll have the opportunity to verify a request’s legitimacy before anyone can obtain your report.
  • No impact on your credit score
    Neither freezing nor thawing your credit report will affect your credit score. Your credit score is impacted by positive or negative activity on your end. Adding protection is considered a neutral action.
  • Generally free for ID theft victims
    If you’re a victim of ID theft, you won’t be required to pay any fees to freeze, thaw or lift a freeze on your credit report in most states. However, you may need to provide additional documentation proving the theft and submit your request in writing.

Cons:

  • Need to plan before opening a credit line
    The added protection comes with the added inconvenience of freezing, or thawing your credit report when you need to apply for credit. This will take just a bit of forethought and may cost you up to $10 each time you thaw your report. You may take several minutes to complete thaw requests for all three bureaus online, which will make it a little more difficult to apply for a credit card in the checkout line. You can manually refreeze your accounts or set your request to automatically do so on a certain date.
  • Fees, unless you’re a victim of ID theft
    Each action — freezing or lifting a freeze — may cost you $3 to $10 in many states. The cost is often tripled, as it’s necessary to freeze or thaw all three of your credit reports if you are unsure which bureau the entity requesting your report will use. The cost may be high for some consumers. Freeze and thaw your reports wisely, and ask the requesting entity which bureau it uses to avoid paying unnecessary fees whenever you can.

An alternative to freezing your credit report

If you don’t think you are in immediate danger of ID theft, you can opt for less-drastic protection and set up a credit fraud alert with all three bureaus instead. When you have the alert set, all lenders attempting to pull your credit history will see a flag on the reports, alerting them to verify your identity before extending credit.

The entity is not required to go through additional verification, but the warning puts it at that entity’s discretion. You will still be able to apply for credit whenever you’d like, and won’t need to remember a PIN to unlock your credit report.

Additionally, fraud alerts are temporary. In most cases, you will be required to renew the alert in 90 days.

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Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at [email protected]ymoney.com

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