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Credit Freezes and Identity Concerns

New Law for Credit Freezes and Fraud Alerts

Looking for stronger ways to protect your credit? Thanks to a new federal law titled S.2155 – Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act you will soon able to get free credit freezes and year-long fraud alerts.

The new legislation will make placing, lifting, and permanently removing freezes free no matter where you live. It also requires consumer rating companies to fulfill your request within one business day if made online or over the phone, and within three business days if requested by mail.

Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, who is an attorney in the Federal Trade Commission, Division of Consumer & Business Education, summarizes the law which will took effect on September 21, 2018.

Free credit freezes

  • What is it? A credit freeze restricts access to your credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Usually you get a PIN to use each time you want to freeze and unfreeze your account to apply for new credit.
  • What’s new? Currently, credit freezes may involve fees, based on state law. Starting this fall, it will be free to freeze and unfreeze your credit file throughout the country.

Free child credit freezes

  • What is it? A child credit freeze allows you to freeze a child’s credit file until the child is old enough to use credit.
  • What’s new? Currently, some state laws allow you to freeze a child’s credit file. Starting September 21st, no matter where you live, you’ll be able to get a free credit freeze for children under age 16.  Note: If the child does not have a credit file, the new law directs the bureaus to create one, and then freeze it.

Year-long fraud alerts

  • What is it? A fraud alert will tell any business that runs your credit that they should check with you before opening a new account.
  • What’s new? Currently, fraud alerts last 90 days. Starting this fall, an initial fraud alert will last for one year. It will still be free and identity theft victims can still get an extended fraud alert for seven years.

Webpages

While the new law has a long name the outcome is simple. When the law takes effect in September, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion must each set up a webpage for requesting fraud alerts and credit freezes. The FTC will also post links to those webpages on IdentityTheft.gov.

Military

And if you’re in the military, there’s more. Within a year, credit reporting agencies must offer free electronic credit monitoring to all active duty military.

Exceptions

There is an exception area within the new law:

“(4) EXCEPTIONS.—A security freeze shall not apply to the making of a consumer report for use of the following:

“(A) A person or entity, or a subsidiary, affiliate, or agent of that person or entity, or an assignee of a financial obligation owed by the consumer to that person or entity, or a prospective assignee of a financial obligation owed by the consumer to that person or entity in conjunction with the proposed purchase of the financial obligation, with which the consumer has or had prior to assignment an account or contract including a demand deposit account, or to whom the consumer issued a negotiable instrument, for the purposes of reviewing the account or collecting the financial obligation owed for the account, contract, or negotiable instrument. For purposes of this subparagraph, ‘reviewing the account’ includes activities related to account maintenance, monitoring, credit line increases, and account upgrades and enhancements.

“(B) Any Federal, State, or local agency, law enforcement agency, trial court, or private collection agency acting pursuant to a court order, warrant, or subpoena.

“(C) A child support agency acting pursuant to part D of title IV of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 651 et seq.).

“(D) A Federal agency or a State or its agents or assigns acting to investigate fraud or acting to investigate or collect delinquent taxes or unpaid court orders or to fulfill any of its other statutory responsibilities, provided such responsibilities are consistent with a permissible purpose under section 604.

Credit Freeze FAQs – Based on Current Law

If you’re concerned about identity theft, those reported mega-data breaches, or someone gaining access to your credit report without your permission, you might consider placing a credit freeze on your report.

Question: What is a credit freeze?

Also known as a security freeze, this tool lets you restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t see your file, they may not extend the credit.

Question: Does a credit freeze affect my credit score?

No. A credit freeze does not affect your credit score.

A credit freeze also does not:

  • prevent you from getting your free annual credit report
  • keep you from opening a new account, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance. But if you’re doing any of these, you’ll need to lift the freeze temporarily, either for a specific time or for a specific party, say, a potential landlord or employer. The cost and lead times to lift a freeze vary, so it’s best to check with the credit reporting company in advance.
  • prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. You still need to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.

Question: Does a credit freeze stop prescreened credit offers?

No. If you want to stop getting prescreened offers of credit, call 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or go to https://www.optoutprescreen.com/?rf=t. The phone number and website are operated by the nationwide credit reporting companies. You can opt out for five years or permanently. However, some companies send offers that are not based on prescreening, and your federal opt-out right will not stop those kinds of solicitations.

As you consider opting out, you should know that prescreened offers can provide many benefits, especially if you are in the market for a credit card or insurance. Prescreened offers can help you learn about what’s available, compare costs, and find the best product for your needs. Because you are pre-selected to receive the offer, you can be turned down only under limited circumstances. The terms of prescreened offers also may be more favorable than those that are available to the general public. In fact, some credit card or insurance products may be available only through prescreened offers.

Question: Can anyone see my credit report if it is frozen?

Certain entities still will have access to it.

  • your report can be released to your existing creditors or to debt collectors acting on their behalf.
  • government agencies may have access in response to a court or administrative order, a subpoena, or a search warrant.
  • See the Exceptions area above for more information.

Question: How do I place a freeze on my credit reports?

Contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies:

You’ll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. Currently, fees vary based on where you live, but commonly range from $5 to $10.

Note: See Free Credit Freezes above.

After receiving your freeze request, each credit reporting company will send you a confirmation letter containing a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you choose to lift the freeze.

Note: See New Law for Credit Freezes and Fraud Alerts, Webpages section of this article for additional contact information.

One more credit freeze to consider

Another national credit-reporting agency, the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange (NCTUE), has recently revealed itself to be powered by Equifax. The NCTUE is a member-owned database where phone, utility and cable companies exchange source-anonymous information on service requests, payment history, and historical account status and/or fraudulent accounts. Because the NCTUE is governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers can request their “disclosure reports” from the agency as well.

  • You can obtain a credit freeze on your NCTUE Disclosure Report under state law or the Exchange Service Center voluntary security freeze program by calling 1-866-349-5355. You can also mail your request to:

    NCTUE Security Freeze
    P.O. Box 105561
    Atlanta, GA 30348

Question: How do I lift (remove or unfreeze) a freeze?

In a few states, credit freezes expire after seven years. In the vast majority of states, a freeze remains in place until you ask the credit reporting company to temporarily lift it or remove it altogether. A credit reporting company must lift a freeze no later than three business days after getting your request. The cost to lift a freeze varies by state.

Note: See Free Credit Freezes above.

If you opt for a temporary lift because you are applying for credit or a job, and you can find out which credit reporting company the business will contact for your file, you can save some money by lifting the freeze only at that particular company.  To do a temporary thaw of your NCTUE credit freeze call 1-866-349-5355 or write to the address in the prior question.

Question: What’s the difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert?

A credit freeze locks down your credit. A fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report as long as they take steps to verify your identity. For example, if you provide a telephone number, the business must call you to verify whether you are the person making the credit request. Fraud alerts may be effective at stopping someone from opening new credit accounts in your name, but they may not prevent the misuse of your existing accounts. You still need to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.

Three types of fraud alerts are available:

  • Initial Fraud Alert. If you’re concerned about identity theft, but haven’t yet become a victim, this fraud alert will protect your credit from unverified access for at least 90 days. You may want to place a fraud alert on your file if your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial or account information are lost or stolen.
  • Extended Fraud Alert. For victims of identity theft, an extended fraud alert will protect your credit for seven years.
  • Active Duty Military Alert. For those in the military who want to protect their credit while deployed, this fraud alert lasts for one year.

To place a fraud alert on your credit reports, contact one of the nationwide credit reporting companies. A fraud alert is free. The company you call must tell the other credit reporting companies; they, in turn, will place an alert on their versions of your report.

Identity Theft Protection

Identity theft is the crime of using another person’s personal information, credit history or other identifying characteristics in order to make purchases or borrow money without that person’s permission and/or impersonate that person.

Credit freezes and fraud alerts can only do so much; however, you may want to go further to protect your personal and financial information especially in this increasingly digital world. There are identity theft protection companies to help your private information stay private.  You may want to check out the 10 Best Identity Theft Protection Services – 2018’s Top-Rated Companies.

“It’s important to remember that no one can prevent identity theft. Companies may not always be able to prevent your information from being stolen, which is why they offer service guarantees and insurance to help and protect you if you become a victim.”

Legal Authorities:

Pub.L. 11§5-174 § 301 – Title III—Protections for Veterans, Consumers, and Homeowners
15 USC 1681c-1: Identity theft prevention; fraud alerts and active duty alerts

Information within this article was gleaned from various articles from the Federal Trade Commission.