How can I protect my personal and financial information from credit fraud and identity theft?
In today's digital world, massive computer hacks and data breaches are common occurrences. And chances are, your personal or financial information is now susceptible to being used for credit fraud or identity theft. If you discover that you are the victim of either of these crimes, you should consider placing a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit report to protect yourself.
A credit freeze prevents new credit and accounts from being opened in your name. Once you obtain a credit freeze, creditors won't be allowed to access your credit report and therefore cannot offer new credit. This helps prevent identity thieves from applying for credit or opening fraudulent accounts in your name.
To place a credit freeze on your credit report, you must contact each credit reporting agency separately either by phone or by filling out an online form. Keep in mind that a credit freeze is permanent and stays on your credit report until you unfreeze it. This is important, because if you want to apply for credit with a new financial institution in the future, open a new bank account, or even apply for a job or rent an apartment, you will need to "unlock" or "thaw" the credit freeze with each credit reporting agency.
A less drastic option is to place a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert requires creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity before extending any existing credit or issuing new credit in your name. To request a fraud alert, you only have to contact one of the three major reporting agencies, and the information will be passed along to the other two.
Recently, as part of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act of 2018, Congress made several changes to credit rules that benefit consumers. Under the new law, consumers are now allowed to "freeze" and "unfreeze" their credit reports free of charge at all three of the major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. In addition, the law extends initial fraud alert protection to one full year. Previously, fraud alerts expired after 90 days unless they were renewed.
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