How to virtually eliminate identity theft

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So many people are worried about identity theft now. Especially with the recent problem with Equifax, where the personal information of 143 million people was hacked into. What should you do? Should you hire a company like Lifelock to protect your credit file? In my opinion, definitely not (for more than one reason, which I’ll cover).

identity theft

 

Imagine this scenario.

Your friend comes to you and he’s very worried that someone will get into his house and steal his valuable items such as his computer, his television, his jewelry, etc. He’s frantic and he doesn’t know what to do.

So you ask him: “Do you have good, strong locks on all your doors?”

He confirms, he has good locks that are very strong.

“And you keep all your doors locked at all times?”

And your friend says, “Oh no, of course not. I keep them unlocked all the time. It would be too inconvenient to have to unlock a door every time I come home!

How would you even respond to that kind of logic?

He continues – “Actually I was thinking about hiring a security guard, and the guard could let me know if someone does break in to my house while I’m not there. Then I can come home and see if anything was stolen.

Doesn’t that sound like complete nonsense? He’s going to leave the doors unlocked (even though they each have a strong lock that could be used). And then he’s going to pay a security guard – not to keep the bad guys out, but just to let you know when someone has broken in so your friend can go in later and assess the damage.

Any reasonable person would say that’s a really foolish plan. But that’s exactly the plan that most people have with their credit file, and all of the personal information it contains.

If you’re like the vast majority of consumers, your credit file is like an unlocked door. Anyone with a little bit of information (like the information that was leaked from Equifax recently) can use your information to get a credit card, take out a loan, get a new cell phone, and all kinds of other things. You would have no idea it’s happening. And there’s a very good chance your information was part of what the bad guys have in their possession.

Oh, you have a “credit monitoring” service like Lifelock? That doesn’t lock the door. It’s like the security guard in the example above – it just notifies you when someone breaks in.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to PREVENT anyone from getting in, in the first place?

There’s a way to do that, and it’s not difficult or expensive. It’s called freezing your credit file.

When you put a freeze on your credit file, it means no one – not even you – can do a credit check, open any new credit accounts, or anything else that requires access to your credit file. This is the lock that keeps your credit file and all of your personal information safe.

But what about when you DO want to open a new credit account? Then you just temporarily “unfreeze” your file. When that’s done, the freeze goes back into place so that you’re again fully protected.

You will need to do this with each of the 3 credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. (Don’t be surprised when they try to scare you with the “inconvenience” of freezing your file. Each of them make a lot of money selling their “credit protection” services – and when your credit file is frozen, you probably don’t have any use for those services.)

What does it cost? Currently, Equifax is not charging to do this (how nice of them, since they completely screwed things up with their weak security). For the other two credit bureaus, it can vary state by state. For me, I paid $10 each for Experian and TransUnion.

How to freeze your credit file

First up, we’ll do Equifax.

First thing to do is make sure you have Adobe PDF Reader installed on your computer. Equifax is going to show you a PDF document that includes your PIN. You’ll need that PIN to get back in to your credit file, and they’re only going to show it ONCE – so make sure you have Adobe PDF Reader installed and ready.

Now, go to https://www.freeze.equifax.com/

Fill out your personal information and submit:

Equifax info

Then confirm you want to place a security freeze:

Equifax freeze

You’ll get a confirmation that the freeze has been processed:

equifax freeze

Then, click the link to view the PDF document that includes your PIN:

equifax PIN

REMEMBER – store that PIN in a safe and secure place, because you’ll need it in order to get back in to your file.

Next up, let’s freeze Experian.

Go to: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html

Click on “Add a security freeze” and then choose “Apply online”:

Experian freeze

Fill out your information. For the selection of the PIN, I recommend letting them choose the PIN for you rather than creating your own.

Experian freeze

Submit the form, and if necessary in your state, enter your credit card information to pay for it (in Florida, it’s $10).

Experian freeze

At this point, Experian may want to ask you a few questions to verify your identity. These questions would be related to things that they already know are in your credit file – auto loans, mortgage amounts, previous addresses, etc.

When you have answered those questions correctly, you’ll get the confirmation that the freeze has been successfully added. Again, either print this or write down the PIN for safekeeping.

Experian freeze

 

And finally, we’ll freeze TransUnion.

Go here: https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp

TransUnion is slightly different in that you need to create an account with them in order to do any of what we’re trying to do.

TransUnion account

Fill out all of the information they ask for, and make sure you use a strong and unique password for this account. Once the account is created, go back to the original site address (https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp) to add the security freeze.

Transunion freeze

Then you will need to submit the payment information (if this is required in your state), and you will also then need to create a 6-digit PIN to allow future access to the account:

TransUnion freeze

Like the previous two, store that PIN in a safe place so you can access it when needed.

NOTE: if you’re married, it would be a good idea to go through this same process (all three bureaus) to put a freeze on your spouse’s credit file as well.

At this point you’ve locked the door to your credit file. Chances are you don’t need to open new credit accounts all that often, so the inconvenience of “unfreezing” your file shouldn’t really be that bad. And it’s a small price to pay to protect your identity.

Of course, doing this is not a 100% guarantee of anything. And I’m not an identity theft specialist, nor am I offering any type of legal advice. Consult with your trusted experts in these areas to make sure you do what is right for your situation.

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Nancy Chandler
October 3rd, 2017

Thanks so much Scott…much appreciated. Have not joined your computer repair program…but hope to do so some day. I truly appreciate all your WONDERFUL help….we are still on partial mission support so, are limited in many areas. Your podcast is SUPERB…to say the least. Blessings on you and your family. nancy

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