Have you been the victim of identity theft? Do you think you were involved in a data breach online?
Fraudulent claims on loans and leases are the fastest-growing kind of identity theft in the United States. Incidents of identity theft for leases and loans more than doubled in the last year. That has been one of my worst fears for a long time, so I decided to look into options to keep my information safe from those looking to use data that does not belong to them for personal gain, and now I get to share my knowledge with you!
You need to protect yourself from criminals looking to harm your credit and use their identity for themselves. You can request a credit lock from all three national credit bureaus and block access to any person or agency trying to do a credit check on you.
Also known as a security lock, taking this step will keep you more in control of who can access your personal information. Credit freezes produce similar results, but it is faster and simpler to lock your credit. It also makes it easier to grant access to those whom you want to check your info.
What Is a Credit Lock?
Locking your credit is a preventative measure you can take to prevent any person or agency from accessing your individual information. By taking this step, you actively prevent identity theft and any other fraudulent acts on your credit. Knowing how to lock your credit and when it is essential will stop criminals from taking out a loan or opening any new lines of credit in your name because they will need a credit check.
Unlike a credit freeze which protects us with federal and state laws, credit locks are covered by the contract you have with each credit bureau. It may not be a law like the credit freeze, but it is the most protection you can provide yourself to stay safe from identity thieves.
How Do You Lock Your Credit?
When locking your credit, a vital element to know is that locking your credit with one credit bureau will not cause the other two reports to be locked. You will need to request locks for each credit report to prevent all credit checks as you navigate your way through, avoiding identity theft. When you request your credit locks, you will need to:
- Call Experian at (888) 397-3742 or request a freeze online at the Experian Freeze Center.
- Call Equifax at (888) 298-0045 or create/access an online account to manage your freeze manually.
- Call TransUnion at (888) 909-8872. You will be creating a pin that you will need to access, freeze and unfreeze your account, so make sure to keep it in a safe place!
The cost will differ for each company. -Experian offers a program called ‘CreditWorks' that has a credit lock available and provides monthly access to all three of your credit reports.
You also receive up to $1 million in identity theft insurance and notifications about new credit activity on all three of your credit reports. Experian also provides phone access to fraud and credit experts to help you resolve any issues.
The cost is discounted to $4.99 for the first month, and after that, it costs $24.99 for the subsequent months you choose to keep your information locked.
Equifax has a program called ‘Lock and Alert,' which is free to activate and use.
TransUnion offers credit monitoring bundles along with its TrueIdentity subscription with a credit lock option, up to $25,000 in identity theft insurance, and monthly access to your TransUnion credit report.
How To Unlock Your Credit
Each credit bureau will request that you create a user account on their website or app when you join their program. When you are ready to unlock your credit, you will be able to log in and unlock your file with only one click. That is a perk of credit locking that you don't get with a credit freeze because it is much faster and easier to unlock your information than unfreeze it.
When You Should Lock Your Credit
Sadly identity theft and credit fraud are significant causes of concern when it comes to financial safety. It is not getting better as time goes on, so it is as crucial as ever to keep your personal information safe. You can always air on the side of caution and freeze or lock your credit as a proactive measure. Still, in most cases, you will need to lock or freeze your credit when your personal information or social security number has been exposed due to a data breach.
How a Parent Can Freeze a Minor's Credit
Usually, children are not the group to be concerned about when it comes to credit scores and reports, but also keep in mind that their credit is a blank slate. Many thieves know it, and if they get the chance to use your child's identity to open accounts, you may not know until they are an adult! Putting a freeze on your child's credit is a free way to restrict access to their personal information. It also provides the opportunity to give them the blank slate they deserve until they are 16. To freeze your child's credit, you will need to:
1.Organize All Necessary Paperwork
- Your child's birth certificate or the legal documentation you have showing you have legal guardianship of the child.
- Your government-issued photo identification, such as your drivers' license
- Your birth certificate
- Your child's birth certificate
- Documentation showing your name and address, such as your utility bill or bank statement
*Be sure to make three copies. One to send to each bureau, and keep the originals for your records.
2. Download the Application
Each site has its own process. Follow the directions to get the applications you need. TransUnion has a letter to fill out rather than an application like the other agencies do.
3. Mail the Documents, Applications/Letters, and Wait for a Response From Each Bureau.
Make sure you keep your records organized so you can reaccess them if you need to.
That is a practical option, but remember, this is not the be-all and end-all of identity protection. Make sure you keep your child's documentation, such as their social security card and birth certificate, locked away in a safe and secure location. Your children deserve the chance to start their financial journey from scratch.
Other Ways to Monitor Your Credit
If you have a credit history, you've most likely had a credit card number or account number stolen and used fraudulently. If you don't monitor your bills and lines of credit, you may not know that someone has booked airline tickets or gone on a shopping spree using your card and your name.
You have the option to place fraud alerts on your accounts also. There are programs for individual credit cards. You can also use a monitoring system that will notify you of any out-of-the-ordinary use on your lines of credit or social security number. Keeping track of your credit score and report regularly will help you prevent anyone from taking advantage of your personal information.
It is crazy to think that people take advantage of others this way. Still, unfortunately, the amount of fraudulent cases is continuing to go up daily. Consequently, it would help if you were ready to keep your finances safe. Monitoring your credit regularly and setting up fraud alerts for yourself are the first lines of defense for data safety.
If you think or know your personal information got comprised in a breach, the best option is to lock or freeze your credit to maximize your chances of keeping your information safe.
Dana Wolk is a blogger with a master’s degree as a Literacy Specialist who has a long history of writing freelance articles for her blog, Debt Blogger, as well as writing for other companies and individuals who have needed content.
She learned about finance and budgeting through her experience and years of tight budgeting and dealing with debt personally. Her professional and personal experience with sharing information and teaching others has made her blog a reliable source of information for those who want to improve their financial literacy skills.