You could lose a lot more than a few possessions if someone breaks into your home. They could come across some information that could cost you well beyond that immediate loss.
Every year, eight million people fall victim to identity theft in this country. It's costly, and can take years to recover from. But there's a free and easy way to guard against identity theft.
This has been on the books for five years in Indiana, but a lot of people may not know about it. That's why Indiana's Attorney General wants to get the word out.
Victims of identity theft find that crooks have used stolen personal information like social security numbers to open new accounts in their name.
Typically, these crooks often run up thousands of dollars in credit card bills, which don't get paid, and the victim ends up with ruined credit and then they can't borrow money for things like a new car or home.
But there is a way to give these thieves the "cold shoulder." It's called a security freeze.
Also known as a credit freeze, it places a freeze on your credit reports that blocks an identity thief from opening a new account or obtaining credit in your name, even if they have your social security number.
“It's just a protection,” says Indiana Attorney General’s Office Director of Consumer Protection. Abby Kuzma. “Certainly, if you think you might have been at risk for identity theft like, let's say for example, your purse is stolen. It's a very smart thing to do then because at that point then you're preventing anything from happening.”
It's best to do something before someone gets ahold of your personal information, and it's pretty easy.
“We recommend that people go on -line to our website, www.indianaconsumer.com/idtheft, it will take you directly to where you can initiate your credit freeze,” says Kuzma.
It includes links to the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.
By Indiana law, credit reporting agencies must place a freeze within five business days from receiving your freeze request.
Within ten business days of receiving your freeze request, the agencies will send you a confirmation letter containing a unique pin number. Best of all it's free.
“It's very useful for people who are in a position where they are going to be absent for a while,” explains Kuzma. “Let's say, for example, a person who goes to Florida for a couple of months in the winter. That would be a good time. We recommend it for military service members because anytime you're going to be gone. It's little safety net because you're not going to be applying for credit during that time. Sometimes, too, we recommend people who have families in nursing homes.”
So what happens if you want to take out a loan or get a new credit card and need access to your credit report?
“It's a very easy thing to do,” says Kuzma. “You just go back on the website and unfreeze it. And you will be given a password protection. So you'll just use that to go into your own account, unfreeze it and do whatever transaction you have. You can freeze it back up again or unfreeze it for a period of time.”
If the requests to unfreeze are made by telephone or e-mail during normal business hours and under reasonable circumstances, the reporting agencies must lift the freeze within 15 minutes. If the request is made by mail, it will take three business days.
Now, if you're interested in a security freeze you can do it at the Indiana Attorney General's Office website. You can also call the Attorney General's Office at 800-382-5516.
A security freeze, also known as a credit freeze, is a consumer right provided by Indiana law. Placing a security freeze on your credit reports can block an identity thief from opening a new account or obtaining credit in your name. If you activate a security freeze, an identity thief cannot take out new credit in your name, even if the thief has your Social Security number or other personal information, because creditors cannot access your credit report without your permission. Placing a freeze will not lower your credit score.
How to Place a Security Freeze:
Any Indiana resident can request a security freeze. There is no fee for Indiana residents to place, temporarily lift, remove or request a new password or PIN. You must place a freeze with each of the following credit reporting agencies. To place a freeze, either use each credit agency's online process or send a letter by certified mail to:
Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
Trans Union Security Freeze
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
To place the freeze with each credit bureau, you may be asked to:
• Provide your full name (including middle initial as well as Jr., Sr., II, III, etc.,) address, Social Security number, and date of birth;
• If you have moved in the past five years, supply the addresses where you have lived over the prior five years;
• Provide proof of current address such as a current utility bill or phone bill (alternative options include a bank, insurance, or credit card statement listing your full name and address);
• Provide a photocopy of a government issued identification card (state driver's license or ID card, military identification, etc.)
If you are placing a freeze by certified mail, you may use the sample letters available online at www.IndianaConsumer.com/IDTheft.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How long does it take for a security freeze to be in effect?
By Indiana law, credit reporting agencies must place a freeze within five business days from receiving your freeze request. Within ten business days of receiving your freeze request, the agencies will send you a confirmation letter containing a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep the PIN or password secured.
Can I open new credit accounts if my files are frozen?
If you want to take out a loan, get a new credit card or apply for a job or certain services, you can lift the security freeze for a certain period of time or for a specific party by notifying the credit bureau according to its procedures.
How can I remove a security freeze?
Indiana residents can have a security freeze lifted for a specific party, temporarily or permanently, free of charge. To do so contact the credit reporting agencies by mail, telephone or online. You must provide proper ID and your unique PIN or password. If lifting temporarily, you must include the party and/or the period of time you want your credit report to be made accessible.
How long does it take for a security freeze to be lifted?
If the requests are made by telephone or e-mail during normal business hours and under reasonable circumstances, the reporting agencies must lift the freeze within 15 minutes.
If the request is made by mail, it will take three business days.
Can a creditor get my credit score if my file is frozen?
No. A creditor who requests your file from one of the three credit bureaus will only get a message or a code indicating the file is frozen.
Can I order my own credit report if my file is frozen?
Yes. You may order a free annual credit report online at www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
Can anyone see my credit file if it is frozen?
Your report can still be released to your existing creditors or to collection agencies acting on their own behalf. They can use it to review or collect on your account. Other creditors may use your information to make offers of credit. Government agencies may also have access in response to a court or administrative order, a subpoena, or a search warrant.
*Additional FAQs are available online at www.IndianaConsumer.com/IDTheft