If you’re like most consumers, you probably make a significant number of holiday purchases online. But the tradeoff for the convenience of online shopping is the increased risk of credit fraud and identity theft.
If you discover that you are the victim of either of these crimes—or you’re concerned that you could become one—there are several steps you can take to protect yourself all year long: getting annual credit reports and/or requesting a credit freeze or fraud alert from any of the three major national credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and Transunion.
Best of all, under the federal Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act of 2018 and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), these protections are provided free of charge.
Annual credit reports
You may request and receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once every twelve months. While these reports won’t show your overall credit score, they generally list all of the credit and banking accounts that have been opened under your name and the associated addresses. You can use these reports to identify any accounts you didn't open or have incorrect information that needs to be updated. You can also use the report to view dormant accounts (such as unused credit cards) that you may want to close.
Credit freezes: The all-or-nothing option
A credit freeze prevents new credit and bank accounts from being opened in your name. Once you obtain a credit freeze, creditors won't be allowed to access your credit report and therefore cannot offer new credit.
To request a credit freeze, you must contact each of the three major national credit reporting agencies separately either by phone or by filling out an online form.
Keep in mind that a credit freeze stays on your credit report until you unfreeze it. Which means that you probably won’t be able to open a new bank account, apply for a loan or credit card or even rent an apartment while the freeze is in place, because these creditors or landlords will want to view your credit reports as well. If you’re planning on doing any of these things, you’ll need to “unfreeze” your credit report by contacting the same three agencies.
Fraud alerts: Protection without the freeze
If a credit freeze is not a good option, consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert requires creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity before extending any existing credit or issuing new credit in your name. This makes it a reasonable protective measure against identity theft, even if you haven’t knowingly been its victim.
The initial fraud alert protection period lasts a full year, after which you must renew it.
To request a fraud alert, you only need to contact one of the three credit reporting agencies, which will pass along the alert to the other two.
Executing your credit protection action plan
To request any of these credit protection options, contact the three credit reporting agencies directly:
Beware of fraudulent imitators
You may have received direct mail or email messages from web sites that claim to serve as a one-stop source for applying for free credit reports from the three credit reporting agencies. While some of these sites are legitimate, many more of them are fraudulent sites designed to fool you into giving them your confidential personal information. For this reason, it’s safer to deal with the three credit reporting agencies directly.
Chris Gullotti is a financial advisor located at Canby Financial Advisors, 161 Worcester Road, Framingham, MA 01701. He offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. He can be reached at 508.598.1082 or [email protected]
Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2018. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual's personal circumstances.