The very 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. Having a credit freeze on your credit reports at the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion will prevent criminals from accessing your credit reports in order to open accounts, access credit or make major purchases in your name even if the criminal has your Social Security number and other personal information. As I told you last month a new federal law went into effect on September 21st that allows you to freeze and unfreeze your credit without any charge. After you have frozen your credit reports it is necessary to unfreeze your credit reports if your credit reports have to be reviewed for legitimate purposes such as applying for a mortgage or, in my own case, leasing a car.
It has recently come to light that the process used by Experian, one of the three major credit reporting agencies had a fatal flaw that would enable a criminal to easily unfreeze and access your account. When you first freeze your credit reports, you get a PIN to use for security purposes. The flaw, which has been patched, relates to how you would unfreeze your Experian credit report if you could not remember your PIN. In that event, you could access your credit report and unfreeze it by answering four security questions based on information in your credit file related to things such as the amount of your mortgage, the type of car you own or addresses where you have previously lived. The security questions would provide you with four possible answers to the questions including “None of the above.” The incredible flaw in this process is that if you answered “None of the above” to each of the questions, you would be able to gain access to the credit report.
It is important to note that this flaw has been fixed and if you presently answer “None of the above” to all of the security questions while seeking to get your PIN at Experian, you will be informed that your request to access your credit report cannot be processed. However, we still do not know how long the flaw existed and how many people may have been affected by the flaw while it still existed. Meanwhile, both TransUnion and Equifax have stopped using PINs. In order to access your account to freeze and unfreeze your credit reports online at TransUnion and Equifax you only need your username and password.
As we again were reminded after last year’s massive data breach at Equifax that could have been prevented and this new security threat from the Experian security protocol defect, we are only as safe and secure as the companies and governmental agencies with the worst security that hold our personal information.
The security flaw at Experian has been corrected and credit freezes are still the single best thing you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft. If you have not yet frozen your credit reports and those of your minor children, I urge you to do so.
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:
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