Advertiser Disclosure

Consumer Watchdog, Identity Theft Protection

The Guide to Freezing and Thawing Your Credit Report

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

iStock

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.

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.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

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

Advertiser Disclosure

Identity Theft Protection, News

No, Equifax Is Not Calling You. Watch Out for Scam Phone Calls After the Data Breach

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Source: iStock

Less than a week after the Equifax data breach was made public, it seems scammers are already looking for opportunities to prey on concerned consumers.

The Federal Trade Commission posted a scam alert Thursday warning consumers to not give their personal information to anyone who calls and claims to be an Equifax representative. Over the summer, hackers breached the Atlanta-based credit bureau’s database and accessed the personal information of about 143 million consumers, including sensitive information like Social Security numbers.

But Equifax is not calling those affected by the breach, so if you get a phone call from someone saying they represent Equifax and want to verify your account information, the FTC advises you hang up. It’s ironic, in a way, to target victims by posing as a concerned Equifax representative. The company has been criticized widely for its sluggish response to the breach, which occurred sometime between mid-May and July but wasn’t discovered until July 29 and wasn’t announced until more than a month later.

In response to the security failure, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has demanded Equifax answer several questions about the breach, including why the company put off announcing the breach for so long. Equifax has until Sept. 22 to respond to the committee’s questions, and the committee plans to hold hearings on the breach in September or October.

In a company statement, Equifax CEO Richard Smith said the breach was a “disappointing event.”

“Confronting cybersecurity risks is a daily fight,” he added. “While we’ve made significant investments in data security, we recognize we must do more. And we will.”

In the breach, people’s Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and other personally identifiable information (PII) were compromised, so it’s understandable you’d be worried and are looking for help.

Here’s what you can do to take control of protecting your identity.

Assume you’re affected

While you can go to Equifax’s website and go through a multistep process to see if your information has been compromised, you can also just assume someone has their hands on your personal information. (It’s also worth noting the Equifax site reportedly isn’t reliable for telling you if you’re affected, and many consumers have reported the site is slow to load or doesn’t load at all.) Even if you weren’t among the 143 million whose personal information was compromised in this breach (and the odds aren’t in your favor), chances are it has been or will be in a breach at a different company or organization. With that in mind, you’ll want to focus on how to detect signs of identity theft and how to respond to them.

Monitor your credit

Equifax responded to the breach by offering free credit and identity monitoring to everyone — not just those affected — for a year through TrustedID Premier. You must go to equifaxsecurity2017.com to enroll, which requires entering your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. You’ll then be given an enrollment date, which may be several days after you start the enrollment process, at which point you can return to the site to continue enrollment. You’ll need to set a reminder to continue the process, as Equifax won’t send you a notification when it’s time.

You have many other ways to find out if someone has misused your personal information. Several companies offer free credit scores — Credit Karma, Discover, Capital One, Mint, LendingTree (our parent company), etc. — either to everyone or to their customers. To help you choose, we put together this guide to getting your free credit score. Credit Karma also offers a free credit monitoring service, and Discover cardmembers can sign up for alerts when their Social Security numbers are detected on suspicious websites. You can also pay for credit monitoring services from a number of providers, including the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion , as well as credit scoring giant FICO.

Consider a credit freeze

You can also freeze your credit so no one, not even you, can apply for new credit using your information. If you do this, you have to initiate a freeze with each of three major credit bureaus, as well as “thaw” each report when you want to apply for a new credit account. Every time you freeze and thaw your credit you may be charged a fee, which varies by state. This only protects you from credit fraud and does not prevent things like taxpayer identity theft, criminal identity theft, medical identity theft, and insurance identity theft.

On Sept. 15, Equifax announced it is waiving the fee for removing and placing credit freezes on Equifax credit reports through Nov. 21, 2017. Anyone who paid for an Equifax freeze at or after 5 p.m. EDT on Sept. 7 will receive a refund, the company said.

Have a plan for responding to identity theft

One of the best ways you can prepare for identity theft is to detect it early. After that, you need to know how to resolve it. You can do this yourself by filing a police report, disputing fraudulent accounts on your credit reports, and making the phone calls necessary to correct any problems stemming from the fraud. Or you could pay someone to help you with this time-consuming task. Check with your employer to see if they offer identity theft insurance or identity theft resolution services as an employee benefit, and if not, consider paying for it.

We’ve rounded up the best identity theft resolution services here.

More than anything, remain calm as you sort through the fallout of this breach. Focus on making a plan for protecting yourself from and responding to identity theft and making sure you only deal with trustworthy service providers.

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.

Christine DiGangi
Christine DiGangi |

Christine DiGangi is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Christine at [email protected]

Advertiser Disclosure

Identity Theft Protection

Credit Monitoring and Identity Theft Protection Guide

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Theft Protection Guide

In 2017, Equifax announced that the Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and (in some instances) driver’s license numbers of  over 140 million people had been hacked.

This widely publicized incident caused consumers to face the serious effects of identity theft, and to think about how they could protect themselves.  In September 2018, a new federal law went into effect as a result of the breach: People can now freeze and unfreeze their credit at all three major bureaus without being charged.

Here is a summary of the best steps to take to protect yourself from identity theft. You should have a plan to:

  1. Prevent identity theft from happening with a credit freeze.
  2. Detect identity theft as soon as possible, with credit monitoring and account alerts. There are both free and subscription services available.
  3. Resolve identity theft if it does happen. You can either get help or do it yourself.

Our full identity theft guide is still below this summary.

1. Prevention

If someone has stolen your personal information, you will want to prevent people from being able to open new credit accounts in your name. You can do that by freezing your credit. A credit freeze prevents any third party from obtaining a copy of your credit report. That means that new credit accounts cannot be opened. (You can read our full credit freeze guide here).  If you want to apply for credit, you would use a pin code (generated at the time of the freeze) to un-freeze your account. Here is where to go to freeze your credit:

In addition, you will want to set up 2-factor authentication on all open accounts (especially your bank accounts or email). That means any time you want to access your account or send money, you would need to receive a text message, email, phone call or confirm via an app.

2. Detection

Even if you freeze your credit, you should have credit monitoring in place. And if your credit isn’t frozen, you definitely need credit monitoring. With credit monitoring, you will be notified as soon as someone tries to open a new account. In addition, you will be notified if new negative information hits your credit report. (Even if you have a credit freeze, someone could use your Social Security number at a hospital. That medical debt could end up with a collection agency – and on your credit report. Only with monitoring would you know.)

You can get 1-bureau monitoring for free. You have to pay for 3-bureau monitoring. Here are our recommendations:

  • Best Free (1-bureau) monitoring:

LendingTree

MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree, offers credit score monitoring in partnership with Transunion. You will be notified of any changes to your credit report, including inquiries and new account applications. You can sign up for the service here.

LendingTree

Learn more Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website


CreditKarma

With CreditKarma, you can also monitor your TransUnion credit report daily. You will be notified of any change to your credit report – including newly opened accounts, inquiries or collection items.

  • Cheapest 3-bureau monitoring: CreditSesame ($15.95 per month)

With CreditSesame you can monitor all three credit bureaus daily. This will cost you $15.95 a month, and does not include resolution services. If you are very concerned about identity theft, three-bureau monitoring could be worth the investment.

  • Set up alerts on all active accounts (free)

Most banks, credit card companies and credit unions have a feature that allows you to receive an alert (text message or email). Make sure you set these up for all accounts – especially accounts you rarely or never use. (You can read our guide to setting up alerts here.)

3. Resolution

If you are the victim of identity theft, you will need a game plan for resolution. The best place to start is IdentityTheft.gov, where you can see a full checklist of the steps to take to ensure you minimize losses and regain control of your identity.

You might want to have help with the resolution process. That is where credit resolution services come in. In a best case scenario, you give power of attorney to the company, and you will have a dedicated case worker handling everything (which can take years).

  • Cheapest resolution service: Zander ($6.75 per month)

At Zander, you are paying for “white glove” on-shore service if your identity is stolen. You will also have a $1 million insurance policy to cover any expenses associated with recovering your identity.

Bottom line

  • Freeze your credit with all three credit bureaus
  • Sign up for free one-bureau credit monitoring at CreditKarma
  • Make sure all open (existing) accounts have both alerts and dual-factor authentication enabled
  • Check your report with all three bureaus at least once a year for free at AnnualCreditReport.com
  • Sign up for credit resolution services ($6.75 a month) at Zander

If you do these things, you will have a cost-effective strategy to protect yourself. Below is our original guide. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email us at [email protected]

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is any attempt by another person to use your identity for their own personal or financial benefit. Identity theft victims are protected by law, and they have the right to a full restoration of their identity, but achieving restoration isn’t always easy. It is up to identity theft victims to find and follow the recommendations of the Federal Trade Commission to achieve full restoration of their accounts, identity and good legal standing.

Identity theft manifests itself in two forms:

Account Takeover

The most common form of identity theft is an account takeover which involves another person using either your credit or debit accounts to make transactions for their benefit.

Identity Takeover

A less common form of identity theft is called identity takeover. This involves thieves using the name, social security number, or other personally identifying information to fraudulently assume their victim’s identity for their own benefit.

When it comes to identity takeover, it’s not just your credit and money that is at risk, it’s your entire identity. In worst case scenarios, you may find that your ID is filled with false medical records, false work documents, criminal charges, unpaid taxes in addition to financial and credit issues to resolve.

How does identity theft happen?

Identity theft can take place through physical and cyber channels, and nearly everyone is at risk for identity theft. Knowing the most common identity theft scams can help you take common sense steps to mitigate risk.

Account Takeover:

  • Data Breaches- Your account number gets stolen from a large corporate database along with thousands or millions of other people’s accounts.
  • Account Skimming- A thief steals your card ID and pin from an ATM or during a transaction, and uses it for purchases or to steal cash later on.
  • Stolen Cards- A thief steals your card and uses it.
  • Phishing- A cyber criminal reaches out to unsuspecting people in the hopes of obtaining account information
  • Online Hacking- Cyber criminals steal your account information when you are logged into an account on a non-secure wireless connection.
  • Unauthorized use- A friend or family member uses your card (or your ATM Pin) to make purchases without your knowledge or consent.

Identity Takeover:

  • Stolen tax documents- Thieves steal tax documents that include SSN, employment information and more from your mail, trash or digital locations.
  • Documents in your trash- Thieves steal documents with personally identifiable information from your trash or recycling bin.
  • Data Breaches- Your personal information gets stolen from a large corporate database.
  • Phishing- A cyber criminal reaches out to unsuspecting people in the hopes of obtaining personal and financial information
  • Online Hacking- Cyber criminals steal your personal information when you are not on a secure wireless internet connection.
  • Unauthorized use- A friend or family member uses your personally identifying information (such as SSN, address, and more) for personal gain.

How Can I Protect Myself?

Although it is impossible to eradicate identity theft, but each person should take steps to mitigate their risk of identity theft and the reach of consequences in the event of such theft.

Mitigating the risks and costs associated with identity theft depends on a thoughtful approach in four categories:

  • Proactively preventing identity theft
  • Monitoring your identity for fraud
  • Limiting the cost of resolution
  • Restoring your identity

You can learn more about the free and paid options for each of these categories below:

Prevention

Although it’s impossible to completely prevent identity theft, everyone can take steps to decrease their risk of being a victim.

It is particularly important to note that friends and family members are often the perpetrators of identity theft. If you are unwilling to press charges against someone, then you need to do all you can to prevent them from stealing your identity.

How do I prevent identity theft?

Account Takeover:

Criminals can find ways around even the best security, but you can take steps to make yourself a less attractive target for thieves.
Top 10 ways to decrease your risk of Account Takeover

  • Don’t give out your ATM PIN to anyone (including family or friends).
  • Use your hands to cover the pin-pad when using an ATM
  • Avoid ATMs at convenience stores or other locations that don’t have security footage
  • Password protects your phone.
  • Don’t log into bank accounts or credit card statements on public Wi-Fi.
  • Do not give out account information (online, over the phone, or in person) unless you are about to make a transaction.
  • If anyone calls to ask for your account information, do not give it out. If you suspect the call may be legitimate, call your credit card company or bank back through their secured lines.
  • Use high quality passwords for online financial accounts.
  • Change passwords for online financial accounts frequently.
  • Shred documents (including old checks) that have account numbers in them before disposing.

Identity Takeover:

Protecting yourself from identity takeover requires protecting yourself from cyber-criminals, criminals who may have access to paper documents, and from thoughtless friends and family members. Even though identity takeover is less common, it’s even more important to take protective measures against it.
Top 7 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Identity Takeover

  • Do not give out your Social Security number to anyone unless there is a legitimate financial, tax or employment need.
  • Shred or burn documents that contain personal identifying information.
  • Do not access tax documents or tax software via public Wi-Fi.
  • Do not store your Social Security Number on your phone.
  • Freeze your credit if you suspect someone attempted to steal your identity.
  • Use anti-virus software or personal encryption software.
  • Use high quality passwords on all accounts that contain personal info.

What companies can help me prevent identity theft?

Most protective measures are free to consumers, and any company that promises full prevention of identity theft is lying. Because identity thieves constantly evolve, it is not possible to fully avoid identity theft risk.

Account takeover

Identity Guard Unfortunately, no company can completely prevent others from taking over your accounts. As long as you have digital accounts you will retain some level of risk.However, Identity Guard ($19.99 per month) mitigates risk by providing customers with password, keystroke and anti-virus protection on their personal computer. This will reduce your risk of being individually targeted for identity theft.

Identity Takeover

If you are worried about identity takeover, one low cost option you may want to consider is a credit freeze. If you are either in the process of cleaning up identity theft, or you have reason to believe that you are at a high risk for identity theft then you should consider placing a credit freeze on your account. A credit freeze prevents other people from viewing your credit history, and it prevents you and others from initiating new lines of credit.

Credit freezes provide as much protection as any of the major identity theft insurance products that are available on the market.

Some companies can help you reduce your risk of identity takeover by adding additional security against hackers and cyber criminals.
LifeLock Advantage The premier advertiser of identity theft protection services was LifeLock who has been sued repeatedly for falsely advertising their ability to completely prevent identity theft. Since then, LifeLock has turned more toward advertising protection through monitoring.
Identity Guard Using the encryption methods explained above, Identity Guard ($19.99 per month) mitigates risk for account takeover from cyber criminals who may target personal information.

Monitoring

When it comes to identity theft, the best defense is the early detection of fraudulent activity. If you detect fraudulent activity early on, you can usually prevent full account takeovers, quickly get reimbursed for fraudulent activity, and deal with less paperwork as you unravel the effects of identity fraud. As a result, we recommend that everyone take monitoring their personal information seriously.

How do I monitor for identity theft?

Account Takeover

Since account takeover involves the fraudulent use of existing credit and debit accounts, it is fairly easy to monitor your accounts using just a few simple tricks.

  • Set up your own alerting system on all open accounts (even if you don’t use them regularly)
  • Review transactions before paying your credit card bill.
  • Pay attention to alerts from your bank or account issuer if they experience a data breach
  • Receive proactive data breach updates using identity theft protection services.

Identity Takeover

Identity takeover has both financial and non-financial components, but most monitoring efforts focus on the financial component of monitoring. This is because identity theft most commonly manifests itself through new credit accounts being opened or negative information (unpaid bills) being introduced to your credit report. The top ways to monitor for identity takeover include:

  • Annually check for fraudulent or incorrect information on savings accounts or checking accounts using the ChexSystems.
  • Pay for three credit bureau monitoring.
  • Pay for web or “dark web” surveillance that will identify if your social security number is being offered for sale.
  • Pay for change of address alerts from monitoring companies.

What companies can help me monitor for identity theft?

While no company can identify every instance of identity theft through monitoring, you may find that you are more comfortable maximizing the amount of monitoring available to you.

Identity Takeover

Identity Takeover typically manifests itself through negative credit information, so monitoring your credit report for fraudulent information, is the best way to monitor for identity theft.

In addition to the free annual credit reports, free two bureau monitoring, and free checking account monitoring, it is possible to pay to receive three bureau credit monitoring services along with the monitoring of other data that will help you identify and resolve identity theft early on.This can be a good choice if you are in the midst of dealing actively with credit card fraud, or you want some of the additional coverage from these insurance providers.

3-logos

TrueCredit ($19.95/month) and AARP also provide cost-effective monitoring of all three credit bureaus. AARP and TrustedID also provide up to $1 million in Identity Theft insurance which is a benefit explained below. FICO Ultimate 3B myFICO ($29.95/month or $329/year) offers quarterly 3 bureau credit monitoring along with intelligent identity theft monitoring features including Black Market Website Surveillance of the sale of your identity information and Social Security number alias watch which monitors the names and addresses associated with your SSN.

Limiting the cost of resolution:

Although laws exist to limit financial loss for consumers, identity theft resolution tends to have some out of pocket costs. These costs include liability losses (limited to $50 if fraudulent charges are reported within 2 days or $500 if reported within 60 days), legal costs (ranging from $20 for notarized forms to a few thousand if you undergo legal battles), and lost wages if you have to take time off to battle the legal system.

How do I limit the costs of resolution?

Account Takeover

  • Use debit and credit cards that advertise $0 Fraud Liability
  • Report any fraudulent transactions (especially cash withdrawals) immediately.
  • Follow your bank’s process for cancelling and reissuing accounts immediately.
  • Change login IDs, passwords, and PIN codes immediately.
  • Follow these steps to report identity theft.

Typically account takeover can be resolved at no out of pocket costs to you. By alerting your issuing bank, you can typically be made financially whole (unless the theft involved ATM withdrawals using your PIN number).

Identity Takeover

  • Report identity theft right away.
  • You will need to file an identity theft affidavit and a police report.
  • Change passwords and PINs as quickly as possible.
  • Follow these steps as quickly as possible to minimize the likelihood of litigation.
  • Consider purchasing identity theft insurance which will cover the financial costs associated with identity theft resolution.

Identity takeover is much more cumbersome to resolve, but outside of litigation, the financial costs are limited. If you are worried about loss liability or potential courtroom expenses, you may want find that purchasing identity theft insurance protection will be valuable for your peace of mind.

What companies can help me limit the cost of resolution?

Account Takeover

If your account is taken over, by law your financial institution must hold you to a $0 Fraud Liability on fraudulent transactions if you still have possession of your card.

However, if your card was lost or stolen, then you have up to $50 in liability if you report the fraudulent transaction within two days, and up to $500 in liability if you report the fraudulent transaction within 60 days. After that point, your liability is limitless.

Individual Plan Zander ($6.75/month or $75/year) offers resolution services at no additional cost to their customers. Additionally, they offer up to $10,000 in recovery of fraudulent electronically transferred funds if legal recourse with a financial institution has failed, and the customer has sought funds from their financial institution first.Zander will not pay out any benefit if the unauthorized transfer was made by a person using your card and your PIN if you gave them access to that information in the past.

 

Identity Takeover

Among the most prominent identity theft products, identity theft insurance promises to cover the complete cost associated with identity theft. This can include the costs of notarization, legal costs, filing costs, and even lost wages. Identity theft insurance policies can cover anywhere from $25,000- $1 Million in coverage though $25,000 should be more than sufficient for most people.

Individual Plan Zander ($6.75 per month) offers resolution services at no additional cost to their customers, and up to $1 million in coverage for identity theft related losses. Additionally, they offer up to $10K in recovery of fraudulent electronically transferred funds if legal recourse with a financial institution has failed, and the customer has sought funds from their financial institution first.
Equifax ID PatrolTM Equifax ($17.95 per month) offers up to $25,000 in identity theft insurance along with 3 credit bureau monitoring services, resolution services. Although their limit is lower than the other companies, $25,000 is likely to be more than enough to pay for all the legal fees and lost wages that could occur in a worst case identity theft scenario. Their insurance does not cover recovery of unauthorized electronic funds.
Identity Guard Identity Guard ($19.99 per month) offers 3 credit bureau monitoring and personal resolution services, and their insurance is up to $1Million. Their insurance does not cover recovery of unauthorized electronic funds.

Resolution

If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, then it is up to you to report the identity theft and restore your good name to all affected areas. This can be a time consuming task, and some companies are willing to take on the burden for you.

How do I restore my identity after I’ve been a victim of identity theft?

Account Takeover:

  • Call your credit or debit card company, cancel your existing account, and have them replace it with something new.
  • Make sure that fraudulent charges are removed and your money has been restored.
  • If instructed by your bank, file an identity theft affidavit and a police report.
  • If necessary, follow these steps to resolve identity theft according to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • If you have paid for identity theft resolution services, report identity theft to your company, so that they can complete resolution steps on your behalf.

Account takeover can usually be resolved between you and your financial institution without too much red tape or documentation required.

Identity Takeover:

  • Visit IdentityTheft.gov, a website that will walk you through all of the steps required to take back your identity. You will also be able to speak with real people. Steps include:
  • Place a Fraud Alert and Get Credit Reports
  • Report identity theft to FTC
  • File a police Report
  • Freeze your credit
  • Close fraudulent accounts
  • Repair your credit report
  • Unravel misuses of your ID for tax, work, social security, medical or other purposes.
  • Utilize resolution services from an existing identity theft resolution policy to assist or resolve issues for you.

What companies can help me restore my identity?

The average identity theft victim spends more than 30 hours unraveling the work of identity thieves in order to make themselves whole again. Several companies offer a range of identity theft resolution services that can help resolve both account takeover and identity takeover.

Resolution assistance

These companies offer resolution help, but they do not restore your identity on your behalf.

Equifax ID PatrolTM Equifax ($17.95 per month) offers resolution assistance through a members only toll-free hotline; depending on your situation, they may assign a caseworker directly to you, but it is up to you to complete all filing. Equifax has an A+ rating with the BBB, but their identity theft product had few online reviews
Identity Guard Identity Guard ($19.99 per month) provides a toll free hotline and promises one on one service, but you are expected to do the heavy lifting associated with filing paperwork and recovery. Identity Guard has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and all complaints filed against them have been resolved. Online customer reviews showed overwhelmingly positive support.
PrivacyGuard PrivacyGuard ($19.99 per month) offers a team of fraud experts but not individualized caseworkers. The experts take on much of the burden of contacting creditors and filing paperwork. However, online reviews for PrivacyGuard showed overwhelmingly negative experiences including billing problems and poor customer service.
FICO Ultimate 3B myFICO ($29.95 per month) provides 24/7 restoration assistance with identity theft experts, and they promise to hire lawyers, investigators and legal case managers on your behalf if you need legal help. However, some of the resolution burden continues to rest with the consumer.

Guaranteed full resolution:

These companies promise to do all the work necessary to restore your identity on your behalf.

Individual Plan Zander Insurance ($6.75 monthly) is one of the top names in restoration services. They assign a US based case worker directly to your case and promise to do all the heavy lifting associated with restoring your identity. They boast a 100% success rate in identity recovery, have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and overwhelmingly positive online reviews.
IDShield Family ID Shield ($12.95 per month) promises that a licensed private investigator will be assigned directly to your case, and provide you with complete resolution. They are not rated by the Better Business Bureau, but they have very positive online reviews.

Determining the right products for you

Best overall free strategy

  • Use AnnualCreditReport.com to review your three bureau credit report once per year.
  • Use ChexSystems to check for accurate checking and savings information once per year.
  • Use CreditKarma to access two of three credit bureau reports on a weekly basis.
  • Set up transaction alert s for open credit accounts.
  • Review debit and credit transactions at least monthly.
  • Keep your information secure and private.
  • Freeze your credit if you fall victim to identity theft.
  • Follow the FTC steps to resolve identity theft.

Cheapest way to maximize resolution

For a little more money:

    • Purchase ID Shield and receive personalized resolution services from a Kroll Private Investigator (especially helpful in complex identity takeover situations) along with single bureau credit monitoring: Total Cost $9.99 per month

Cheapest way to limit the cost of resolution

  • Purchase Zander Identity Theft Insurance and receive up to $1 million in identity theft insurance including recovery of up to $10,000 in unauthorized electronically transferred funds along with recovery services: Total Cost $6.75 per month

Best coverage Money can buy

You’ll get the most value by combining the free credit monitoring from CreditKarma and the resolution services from Zander Identity Theft Insurance — Credit Karma would alert you to a problem and Zander would help you resolve it, and Zander’s service costs $6.75 per month.However, for those who are willing to sacrifice a bit in the way of resolution services for additional monitoring, myFICO Ultimate 3B ($29.99/month) offers acceptable resolution services combined top insurance and the best monitoring services on the market.

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.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here