Good morning everyone. Yesterday, I read this article from Krebs on Security regarding the recent Starwood / Marriott data breach. In the article, there was a very powerful section that talked about 2 realities that all Americans need to come to grips with in regards to privacy, data security, and our powerlessness when it comes to securing our data. Here are the 2 realities from the article:
Reality #1: Bad guys already have access to personal data points that you may believe should be secret but which nevertheless aren’t, including your credit card information, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, date of birth, address, previous addresses, phone number, and yes — even your credit file.
Reality #2: Any data point you share with a company will in all likelihood eventually be hacked, lost, leaked, stolen or sold — usually through no fault of your own. And if you’re an American, it means (at least for the time being) your recourse to do anything about that when it does happen is limited or nil.
I have believed reality #1 for a very long time. I could post all my personal information in this blog post and I wouldn’t be any less secure. Every piece of personal information about our lives has already been hacked, breached, or stolen by the bad guys. It almost becomes pointless to protect your personal information because tomorrow a new company will be breached. As for reality #2, I believe this to be true too, but I really hope it will not become 100% true. There has to be at least 1 company out there that cannot be hacked or breached, but I feel like that list gets smaller every day.
Since I am not planning on applying for any new credit cards (I was approved for the CNB City National Crystal Visa Infinite Credit Card last month) and that I could unfreeze my credit reports in an hour if needed, I decided that it was finally time to freeze my credit reports at the 3 largest credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). A few years ago, I froze my credit reports at the smaller credit bureaus (IDA / ARS / SageStream) to improve my odds of being approved for credit cards from US Bank (it worked remarkably well at the time). Creating accounts and freezing all 3 big credit bureaus should be pretty easy, just head to these pages to get started:
After setting up an account and successfully answering security questions, you should see a screen that looks like this. When your credit reports are frozen, you can permanently remove the freeze or temporarily lift a freeze (if you are applying for new credit).
Creating accounts with Experian and TransUnion was very simple and straightforward. Unfortunately, when I was setting up my Equifax account, I did not pass the security questions, so I had to call Equifax to verify my identity. I was then given a PIN to remember in order to permanently remove or temporarily lift my credit freeze. I tried to sign into my Equifax account, but my username and password were not working. I tried doing a password reset, but never got the reset email. I called Equifax and explained the problem. They informed me there was a technical issue with the system and that my issue would be escalated. I’m not sure how long that will take, but I am not holding my breath. Hopefully the frozen credit reports do not cause me too much trouble.
If you have any questions about freezing or unfreezing a credit report, please leave a comment below. Lastly, please answer my 1 question poll question. Thank you and have a great day everyone!
I was informed by my employer this January that my SSN # had been stolen, so I immediately frozen my credit reports. At the time, I had to pay $10 per credit bureau, too, except for Equifax, since they had been breached lately. It was good that I did this because soon after, I got an email from Walmart.com saying I had been denied for a credit card … so the ‘bad guys’ had definitely been trying to use my information.
What’s funny is that my employer found out I (and 5 others, actually) had been hacked because the ‘bad guys’ tried applying for unemployment as me … and I still work there … *facepalm.* They also had an old address of mine so I’m guessing their records from a few years ago were hacked, vs. more current records.
I’ve heard it’s free now to freeze/unfreeze your credit so may as well do it, if you aren’t applying for any loans or credit cards!
I’m sorry your info was stolen, but it sounds like you acted quickly to prevent further damage.
Hi Grant. What about for business credit card account, since most can’t be seen on the major credit agencies? Is there an agency to check what accounts one’s EIN number has? Thanks!
I think Experian offers a service to track business credit reports. You should be able to see EIN info there.
I thought the freeze was only for 3 months at a time, or is that fake news?
The freeze is permanent unless you remove the freeze or temporarily lift the freeze.
Why aren’t you planning on applying for any new credit cards?
I did a mini App-O-Rama last month and I didn’t get approved for most of the cards I wanted, so I’m taking a 6 month break from getting new cards.
Stupid question. If I freeze my account and cancel a card, do I need to do anything special?
Nope, your frozen credit report just prevents new credit inquires and new credit being approved. It will not effect existing accounts.
Great article Grant! If it’s so easy to freeze and unfreeze your reports, why wouldn’t people do this?
Just the hassle of remembering PINs and remembering to unfreeze accounts when they need them. I believe it may also reduce the number of preapproved / targeted credit card offers you get as well.
I froze two credit reports at two credit bureaus three years ago. I found out this August that neither was frozen when I co-signed the lease for my daughter. I did not request them to unfreeze at all. Unsure what and when was the hiccup and what to do about it. I have no time to document to prove they dropped the ball.
Just go through the process of freezing all 3 credit reports again. This time it should be permanent until you unfreeze them.
Anyone know if freezing all reports prevents you from getting targeted credit offers via mail/email?
I believe it does. You may receive less preapproved / targeted credit card offers, but I’m not 100% sure.
We have had ours frozen for about 7 years (SC state data breach) and we still get credit card offers from Capital One (cancelled an account with them probably 9 years ago ) and others from airlines, AAA, AARP and others. So it may cut down the applications, but it certainly does not stop them.
That’s good to hear, since we love preapproved / targeted credit card offers.
love your site. love this post.
…2 realities that all American need to come…
change were to was
…Creating accounts with Experian and TransUnion ~were~ very simple and straightforward. Unfortunately, when I was setting up…
…I was then ~gives~ a PIN to remember…
Thank you for alerting me to those typos. I fixed those 3 things. I appreciate good spelling and grammar, so thanks for keeping me honest :)
Since credit accounts for 15% of identity theft, what else have you done to prevent other forms of identity theft?
What do you mean? I shred all my personal and financial documents, and I use strong passwords for my financial accounts.
How do you track things like your medical information, your driving record, your social security number and more that does not show up on your credit report?
I have no idea. Do you have any recommendations?
There are a few companies that provide access to that type of monitoring. Since I am a consultant in the field I will share my company’s information: http://www.ourplans.org.
The main idea is identity theft can still occur even with credit freezes. I always like to teach people to do more than just the freeze.
I found the same situation with Equifax as you did but when I called they told me that their system was down and that I would have to call back. They asked me a million questions to prove who I was … maybe a slight exaggeration. The other two were very easy.
I think Equifax can’t handle the influx of credit freezes. Hopefully they get their act together soon.
How did you place a freeze for Transunion and Equifax? Both have been giving me errors since I started trying in September.
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If you get errors, you can call them and they will place a freeze on your credit report and give you the PIN. Make sure to write down and save that PIN.
Hi Grant. I have my credit reports monitored through lifelock. Do i still need to freeze them?
Yes, you should freeze your credit reports directly with the 3 big credit bureaus. I’m not sure what else LifeLock is providing you, you might want to see what you are paying for with that service.
Great article. Does freezing your credit info at the major agencies affect FICO and other soft inquiry services?
No, those should not be effected by freezing your credit reports. It will only prevent future credit requests.
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