By Attorney General Roy Cooper
Placing a security freeze on your credit is the best way I know to protect yourself from identity theft. And under a new state law
that started October 1, North Carolinians can get security freezes for free online.
Identity thieves use bits of personal information about you, like your date of birth and your Social Security Number, to try to open new accounts and run up bills in your name. ID thieves can do a lot of damage and cost the average victim around $500, according to the Federal Trade Commission, plus the time it takes to clean up your good name.
A security freeze is like a padlock for your credit. Once you freeze your credit, it will be difficult for an ID thief to take out credit cards and loans in your name. That’s because the credit bureau won’t release information from your credit report until or unless you lift the freeze.
I’ve had a freeze on my credit for a few years, but the old process for getting and lifting a security freeze was too difficult and expensive. Now, it’s absolutely free to get a security freeze online, and you can lift it for free whenever you need to.
You can get free online security freezes
by visiting the three major credit bureaus’ secure websites. Links to the credit bureaus’ websites are available at www.ncdoj.gov,
along with detailed information about how to sign up for security freezes and how to thaw the freeze when you need to take out credit.
For maximum protection, be sure to get a freeze with each of the three credit bureaus. You will need to give them information such as your SSN, address and date of birth to verify who you are. The company will give you a PIN or password to use whenever you want to lift your security freeze.
Security freezes are also now free by telephone or mail
for seniors over aged 62 and ID theft victims. Other consumers can get or lift security freezes by mail or phone for $3 per credit bureau. You can get all of the details on how to get a freeze over the phone or through the mail, including a sample letter, at www.ncdoj.gov
When you need to thaw your credit
to get a new loan or credit card, just log back on to the credit bureaus’ websites and use the PIN or password they gave you. You can also lift security freezes by phone or mail for $3, or for free if you’re a senior or an ID theft victim.
The credit bureaus can usually comply with your online or phone request to lift a security freeze within 15 minutes. Written requests to thaw your credit can take up to three business days.
Keep in mind that you may not need to lift all of your security freezes to get new credit. For example, if you’re buying a new car
and need a loan, find out which credit bureau the dealership uses and lift only that freeze. But don’t forget to put the security freeze back on when you’re finished.
And if having a security freeze makes you think twice about signing up for another credit card, that might not be such a bad thing, either.