Here is something I know for an absolute fact – ID theft sucks.
Having your identity stolen is a terrible invasion of your emotional and financial life. Yet, someone managed to turn your life upside down without ever meeting you. It’s not uncommon for me to hear from consumers who have been the victims of ID theft and the stories they tell are so sad.
Ironically, victims of ID theft are more likely to know their scammer than have it be a total stranger. Friends and family members have easy access to our personal information. I can’t tell you the volumes of people I’ve run into over the years who discovered their ID theft scammer was a roommate, parent, or sibling.
ID Theft is Primarily a Crime of Opportunity
Before the major Equifax credit reporting bureau hack I thought putting a freeze on your credit bureau reports was unnecessary. I’ve completely changed my opinion on that.
Putting a freeze on your credit reports is one way you can stop ID theft. With a credit report freeze it will be more difficult for a new creditor to have access to your credit report to then approve a new line of credit in your name.
A freeze on your credit is not absolute. For example, creditors you have relationships with will still be able to access your credit report. This means if someone wanted to commit ID theft against you they could target a creditor you already have a card with. An ID theft criminal could also make changes on a current account you have; like change your address. And government agencies will still be able to access your credit report in response to a court or administrative order, a subpoena, or a search warrant.
The good news is the credit report freeze to help make ID theft harder does not lower your credit score. So you will get some benefit with only one major downside. When you do go to apply for credit with a new lender, you will need to temporarily unfreeze your credit report so the new creditor can check your credit report.
You should contact Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion separately to put a freeze on your individual credit reports.
You might also want to consider some sort of credit monitoring service or maybe a free service like CreditKarma.com that watches over two of your credit bureaus for free on a slightly delayed basis.
For more information on the pros and cons of freezing your credit, click here.
ID Theft Victim? Do This Stuff Now
The Federal Trade Commission hosts a fantastic site to help victims of ID theft. You can visit identitytheft.gov and complete the questions on the easy to use site.
If you don’t want the online form help you can look at this page for specific advice on how to handle specific types of accounts that were subject to ID theft.