Scam of the day – November 1, 2017 – Why credit freezes are better than credit locks

Recently,  the IRS Commissioner made a curious statement when he declared that it was doubtful that the recent massive data breach at Equifax affecting 145 million people would make a big difference in instances of income tax identity theft.  Income tax identity theft occurs when identity thieves file phony income tax returns using the names and Social Security numbers of their victims.  Unfortunately, the reasoning behind his statement was that there have already been so many massive data breaches, including the data breach at the federal Office of Personnel Management in 2015 in which personal information of 21.5 million people was stolen, that the chances are pretty good that your personal information already has been compromised.

Not very comforting.

The best thing you can do to protect yourself from many forms of identity theft is to put a credit freeze on your credit report at each of the three major credit reporting agencies.  However, the credit reporting agencies are recommending that you use a new invention of theirs which they call a “credit lock” instead of a credit freeze to protect your data.  They tout them as being more convenient and tie them into other services.  However, the truth is that you are better off with a credit freeze than with a credit lock.  Credit freezes are governed by laws that protect you, while credit locks are creations of the credit reporting agencies pursuant to contracts which they can change at will.  In addition, you may not desire the extra services you end up paying for at Experian which includes credit locks in security packages that can cost you more than a credit freeze while providing services you may not need.  Quite frankly, I don’t trust any of the credit reporting agencies to have our best interest as their primary motivation so I believe you are better off choosing to put a credit freeze on your credit reports at each of the three major credit reporting agencies rather than a credit lock.

TIPS

To get started, it’s best to first understand the laws and fees governing credit freezes in your state. The National Conference of State Legislatures describes the credit freeze laws for each state. 

To get the maximum protection from identity theft, it is important to freeze your credit at each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Here are links to each of them with instructions about how to get a credit freeze: 

Once you have frozen your credit, be sure to keep the PIN and information on how to unfreeze your credit report in a safe place.

Scam of the day – June 27, 2016 – Why you should have a credit freeze

Regular readers of Scamicide are probably familiar with credit freezes, but it is important to remind everyone about the benefits of this tool that is simply the best thing you can do to protect yourself from identity theft.  A credit freeze is, as the name implies, is a freezing of your credit report at your request whereby no one can have access to your credit report even if they have your Social Security number and other personal information about you.  You control access to the credit report through a special PIN that you choose.   Thus, even if someone was able to steal your Social Security number, they could not parlay that into access to your credit report and use it to purchase things or set up accounts using your name.  If you need to thaw out your credit report at such times as you want to apply for credit in the future, it is an easy procedure to do by using your PIN; then, after your new credit has been established, you can freeze your credit report again.

Here is a link to the National Conference of State Legislature’s webpage that describes the credit freeze laws for each individual state.  Because the laws differ from state to state, you should check on the laws for your own particular state when putting on a credit freeze because the costs differ from state to state.  http://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/consumer-report-security-freeze-state-statutes.aspx

The credit reporting bureaus and many of the companies offering identity theft protection services advise people to put a fraud alert on their credit reports at each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, if you think you are in danger of identity theft rather than use a credit freeze. With a fraud alert in place, you are supposed to be notified if anyone attempts to open a new account or access credit in your name, which sounds like a good thing and it would be if it weren’t often ignored by businesses opening new accounts or granting credit in your name by identity thieves.

And what is the penalty, you might ask for a company failing to contact you before granting someone credit if you have a fraud alert on your credit report? Zero. Zilch. Nada. There is absolutely no penalty whatsoever if a company chooses to ignore a fraud alert and fails to notify you when someone attempts to open a new account using your name.  So why do credit reporting agencies recommend that people use fraud alerts to protect themselves from identity theft?  The answer is simple. The credit reporting agencies make billions of dollars by selling your information to banks and other companies. With a fraud alert in place, they can continue to sell your information however, if you have a credit freeze in place, they cannot sell your information. With a credit freeze in place, even an identity thief who already has your Social Security number will not be able to access your credit reports to use your credit to make purchases or open accounts in your name.

This is important because before opening new accounts, most companies will do a credit check of the applicant. With a credit freeze in place, a credit check cannot be done and consequently an identity thief will be prevented from opening new accounts

Having your credit frozen will not affect your ability to get your annual free credit reports from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.  It is important to put a credit freeze on your credit report at each of the three major credit reporting agencies.  Here are the links to each of them where you can go to freeze your credit.

Equifax  https://www.freeze.equifax.com

TransUnion:  https://transunion.com/securityfreeze

Experian   https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html

Scam of the day – October 4, 2014 – J.P. Morgan update and credit freeze information

Last Thursday, in a required SEC filing,  J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. reported that the data breach, which we reported to you about when it was first discovered during the summer, was much larger than initially thought.  At the time, J.P. Morgan believed that only a million accounts were compromised, but now, J.P. Morgan is indicated that information on 76 million households and 7 million small businesses was stolen by hackers thought to be from Russia or another Eastern European country.  According to the SEC filing, J.P. Morgan says that the information stolen included names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.  At this time J.P. Morgan is saying that they are not aware of fraudulent activities tied to the data breach and that no account numbers, passwords, user IDs or Social Security numbers were stolen.  The data breach apparently began in June and went on until discovered in mid August, which is especially troubling because it provided time for the hackers to cover their tracks for what may have been their true goal.  The hackers did manage to gain access to the entire list of applications and programs used by J.P. Morgan Chase on its computers which could then be evaluated by the hackers for inevitable vulnerabilities that could be exploited at a later time.  Obviously J.P. Morgan is busy trying to protect against this threat.

TIPS

For customers of J.P. Morgan Chase, now is not the time to run and hide nor take your money out of the bank.  In fact, at the time that the FBI began its initial investigation of this data breach during the summer, it indicated that it was looking into possible data breaches of as many as four other banks as well.  It may well be that we are not yet aware of the breaches that occurred and may still be going on in other banks.  You can expect either the hackers, people who the hackers sell the information they gathered and even totally independent identity thieves to start contacting people through emails, text messages and phone calls purporting to be from J.P. Morgan Chase.  In these contacts, they will attempt to lure unsuspecting victims into providing personal information under various guises or clicking on links to obtain what may appear to be important information.  However, if you provide that personal information all you will do is end up a victim of identity thief.  If you click on the links in emails or text messages appearing to be from J.P. Morgan you may well end up downloading keystroke logging malware that will steal all of the information from your computer that will be used to make you a victim of identity theft.  Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  Even if your Caller ID appears to show that the call you receive is form J. P. Morgan Chase, scammers are able to make their calls appear to be from J.P. Morgan Chase through a tactic called spoofing.  The best course of action if you receive any purported communication from the bank is to not respond directly, but instead contact the bank independently on your own to find out what the truth is.

This also may be a good time to consider putting a credit freeze on your credit report so that even if someone manages to obtain your Social Security number and other personal information, they will be unable to access your credit report and run up large debt in your name.  A separate credit freeze needs to be established at each of the three major credit reporting agencies to be effective.  Here are the links to the pages at Experian, TransUnion and Equifax where you can put a credit freeze on your report and get some peace of mind.

TransUnion http://www.transunion.com/personal-credit/credit-disputes/credit-freezes.page

Equifax https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp

Experian https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html