It’s always a good idea to protect your information. Over the past decade or so, new services and efforts to protect consumer credit information and sensitive information have emerged as technology’s reach grows larger. Some people, usually those who have experienced identity theft, have gone through the process to freeze their personal credit reports, which used to be more complicated and expensive than it now will be.
New legislation called the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, means you can now freeze your personal credit reports for free with each consumer credit bureau, but there are some credit reports that still can’t be frozen, even for a fee. Prior to today, there was no federal law guaranteeing free credit freezes, although some states had outlawed charges for credit freezes for identity theft or fraud victims. The major consumer credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — all had separate policies and charges for consumer looking to freeze or unfreeze their personal credit reports.
“Consumers who are worried about fraud now have a free and easy way to help lock down their credit reports,” says Gerri Detweiler, education director at Nav. A freeze essentially locks down your consumer credit report and requires a pin number to unlock the report for anyone looking to access your data — lenders, identity thieves, fraudsters, and, sometimes, even you.
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Should You Freeze Your Credit Reports?
By placing a freeze on your reports, you’re placing an extra layer of protection between your information and malicious individuals who would open accounts fraudulently using your stolen information.
It also means that even legitimate lenders with whom you attempt to open an account can’t access your credit without your consent and action to open the report for their access. All in all, it’s an added security measure that can safeguard your sensitive personal information and protect you from the negative effects of identity theft.
It may seem silly to think that there are downsides to adding further protection to your personal info, but, depending on who you are and how hands-on you are with monitoring your credit, it could be a pain in your side.
For those who use services to monitor their credit, a credit freeze could make it more difficult if not impossible to keep an eye on your credit. The freeze not only stops the bad guys from getting a peek at your credit, it also prevents some monitoring services to send alerts and notifications that can be the first alarm bell of identity theft. As well, if you’re in the market for a mortgage or any form of financing, a credit freeze can slow down the process if you have trouble unfreezing your reports.
What About Business Credit Reports?
Business credit reports are publicly available — a major difference from consumer credit reports that many business owners aren’t aware of. Unfortunately for business owners, identity thieves are starting to catch on.
“It’s important for those running a small business to understand that their business may still be a target,” Detweiler said. “Business owners should be especially vigilant about monitoring their business credit reports.”
Business credit reporting is not included in many of the federal regulations that apply to consumer credit reporting, so business credit reports can’t be frozen and remain available to the public. Unlike consumer credit reporting, no one needs a “permissible purpose” to access a business credit report, so anyone can buy a business credit report for a fee at a commercial credit agency. Currently, the major business credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax & Dun & Bradstreet — don’t have a way for business owners to freeze their business credit reports. Monitoring your business credit report can be costly, with certain reports costing $100+ a piece. (You can monitor your business and personal credit for free, with ongoing alerts, at Nav.)
How to Freeze Your Credit Reports
As with almost anything in finance or credit, your key to freezing your credit reports is simply to ask. The way you ask will determine just how quickly a freeze is put in place. If you submit your request for a credit freeze by phone or electronically, the credit reporting agency must honor the request for free within one business day. If the request is made by mail, they must honor the request within three business days.
In the case that you need to lift your credit, it’s a similar story. A request made by phone or electronically must be honored within an hour, a mail request within three days.
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