Credit Reports and Freezes

  • A credit report is a statement that has information about your credit activity and current credit situation such as loan paying history and the status of your credit accounts.

    Credit reports at the 3 big credit bureaus
    (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) are accessed by businesses to help them decide whether to approve financing for homes, cars and credit cards.  Credit checks are sometimes done by employers when deciding whom to hire for a job. 

    Credit reports often contain the following personal information:
    • Your name and any name you may have used in the past in connection with a credit account, including nicknames 
    • Current and former addresses
    • Birth date
    • Social Security number
    • Phone numbers
    • Drivers license number
    • How much money you owe on your house.
    • Record of a court judgment against you. 
  • A credit freeze locks down the information in your credit files.  It prevents creditors from accessing your credit report, according to the Federal Trade Commission. It prevents credit, loans and services from being approved in your name without your consent. It makes it impossible for someone to open new accounts and bank cards in your name.  It does not affect your credit score.

    Freezing your credit
    — as well as lifting a freeze — may be a bit of a headache (every time someone wants to access your credit report, you will have to go through the process of lifting the freeze), but it will protect you against some identity theft crimes.
Statistics
  • Equifax:  143 million Americans' information hacked.  Credit monitoring company Equifax was hit by a high-tech heist that exposed Social Security numbers and other sensitive information on about 143 million Americans between mid-May and July 2017.  Check information stolen in this hack at https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/, or call (866) 447-7559 for information.

  • Yahoo was targeted in a 2014 digital burglary affecting 500 million user accounts, and a different attack in 2013 that compromised more than 1 billion accounts throughout the world.  Although no Social Security numbers or drivers' license information were disclosed, other sensitive information was obtained such as names, phone numbers, dates of birth, encrypted passwords, and unencrypted security questions that could be used to reset a password.    ("Yahoo Says 1 Billion User Accounts Were Hacked," The New York Times, Dec. 14, 2016) 
What You Can Do
  • FREE Credit Reports.  Your credit reports matter.  Credit reports may affect your mortgage rates, credit card approvals, apartment requests, or even your job application.  Reviewing credit reports helps you catch signs of identity theft early.

    U.S. law gives every American the right to get a copy of their credit file for free once a year from each of the 3 major credit reporting bureaus.  Get your free Congress-mandated credit report each year – 75% of all credit reports have a mistake in them.  Log on to http://AnnualCreditReport.com to get yours.  Mistakes can affect your credit score, and ultimately lead to higher interest rates.  This report also helps you determine identity theft.  Federal law allows you to ensure that the information on all of your credit reports is correct and up-to-date.  Call (877) 322-8228.

    Check your credit report at least twice a year, to make sure everything is in order.  Experts suggest that it is best to spread those requests out over the year - do one every 4 months.  Expect to check this information not just in the immediate future, but for the long term - potentially years.  "Bad guys can be very patient with data." 

    While many websites market access to your credit reports, the official one:
    https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action
  • Credit Bureaus.  There are only 3 credit bureaus in the U.S. who gather and report credit information.  When someone who is unauthorized makes an inquiry about your credit, you will know about it if you monitor those inquiries.  

    Look at your annual credit report for FREE: 
    http://AnnualCreditReport.com
     

    Federal law requires
    that each credit bureau provide all citizens with one free credit report annually (since November 2007).  In addition, these three credit bureaus each charge about $10 for a freeze on your credit file, and another $10 for a thaw (which could take up to 3 days to thaw it).  By freezing access to your credit file, the file becomes off-limits to anyone who doesn’t know the secret PIN number that you choose.  
  • FREEZING your CREDIT REPORTS. 

    A credit freeze prevents creditors from accessing your credit report, according to the Federal Trade Commission.  This prevents credit, loans and services from being approved in your name without your consent.  An identity thief cannot open a new account, because the potential creditor or seller of services will not be able to check the credit file.  It does not affect your credit score. 

    A credit freeze may NOT stop misuse of your existing accounts or some other types of identity theft.  Also, companies that you do business with would still have access to your credit report for some purposes. A fraud alert will allow some creditors to get your report, as long as they verify your identity.

    If your wallet or credit cards have been stolen, or you suspect you have been a victim of identity theft, Washington State law allows citizens to order a “Security Freeze” on your credit report file, which helps prevent a thief from opening new accounts in a victim’s name.   The security freeze can be placed, temporarily lifted, or permanently removed from a file, by providing your personal ID information as requested. 

    • Place a Security Freezes at ALL 3 Reporting Companies.  When you initiate a freeze with each of the credit reporting companies — you have to do freezes with all of them — and you will get a PIN that corresponds with each freeze.

      A credit freeze costs money.  This will vary from state to state, and range from about $5 to $10.  There are also fees to lift the freeze.  In Washington State, the fees are usually Free to ID theft victims; $10 to all other consumers; and Free to State "Protected Consumers" 65+ years of age. 

      You can place a security freeze in any one of 3 ways: 

      PHONE:  Call each of the 3 credit bureaus at the number provided below: 

      MAIL:  Download and complete each bureau's Security Freeze Request, and send one to each credit bureau at the address provided.  (NOTE:  Credit bureau addresses may be subject to change; check the credit bureau’s website for the latest address to ensure your request is received and processed quickly.

      ONLINE: 
      On each credit bureau’s website (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), you can find an online form to place your Security Freeze.

      Equifax: 

      1-800-349-9960
      https:www.freeze.equifax.com

      Experian:  1-888-397-3742
      http://www.experian.com

      TransUnion: 
      1-888-909-8872
      http://www.transunion.com 

      PLEASE NOTE: Consumers Union has provided the above information as general guidelines on how to place the security freeze in your state. However, we strongly recommend that you also check with the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to ensure you are submitting the proper documents when placing and using the security freeze.

    • After freezing your credit report, 
      • You can still see your report.
      • You
 are still entitled to your free annual credit report.
      • Your exiting creditors and debt collectors acting on your behalf can see it.
      • Government agencies may have access to it (if needed for a subpoena or search warrant). 

    • Lifting the Freeze:  If you institute a freeze and a creditor needs to access your credit report, you will need to temporarily lift it. It can take about 3 business days to lift a freeze.  When you initiate a freeze with each of the credit reporting companies — you have to do freezes with all of them — and you will get a PIN that corresponds with each freeze. When you want to temporarily lift any of them, you will give that PIN back to the credit reporting company it corresponds to.

      You can ask to lift the freeze temporarily or permanently.  After placing a credit freeze on your credit file, you can still open a new account, apply for a job, rent an apartment, buy insurance, refinance your mortgage, or do anything else that requires your credit report.  If you want a business, lender, or employer to be able to review your credit report, you must ask the credit reporting company to lift the freeze. If you're trying to lease a car at Toyota, for example, you can ask Toyota which credit reporting company they are going to use to access your report. That way you can just lift the freeze at that company.

      (Sources:  Consumers Union's Guide to Security Freeze Protection; Federal Trade Commission's Extended Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes; Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; "Equifax data breach: How to freeze your credit," USA Today, Sept. 13, 2017; "Equifax: Its impact, what you should do, by Ken Sweet, AP, September 9, 2017; "Equifax: 143 million Americans' information hacked, by Michael Liedtke, Associated Press, September 8, 2017; https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action
  • FRAUD ALERTS.  After an identity theft crime - Mail or forward copies of the police report to all 3 credit agencies with a cover letter requesting your complete credit file.  Then, call every creditor with a bogus account listed in your file, and have them close it immediately. 

    Setting up fraud alerts requires creditors to contact you directly, usually by phone, for approval before allowing an account to be opened.  That gives people a more active role, rather than passively monitoring or freezing your entire file.  Bureaus also must contact each other when a fraud alert is placed.  A fraud alert will allow some creditors to get your report, as long as they verify your identity.

    Fraud Alerts can be reported to one of the 3 national credit report agencies, placing a fraud alert on your name and your Social Security number.  Contact the following numbers immediately:
Equifax:  1-800-525-6285
Experian (formerly TRW):  1-888-397-3742
Trans Union:  1-800-680-7289
Social Security Administration (fraud line):  1-800-269-0271
  • Change your Social Security Number.  This is an extreme step.  People can request to change their Social Security number with the Social Security Administration, if they have repeatedly been a victim of identity fraud under their original number. 

  • Remove your name from mailing lists.  Insurance companies, banks, and other companies are allowed to access your credit report when making their mailing lists.   You have the right to stop receiving financial junk mail, or stop allowing insurance companies, banks, and other companies to access your credit report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion records.  Call the following consumer reporting agencies toll-free at 1-888-567-8688, or write:
Equifax Options, PO Box 740123, Atlanta, GA   30374-0123

Experian Target Marketing, PO Box 919, Allen, TX  75013

TransUnion Opt Out Request, PO Box 505, Woodlyn, PA   19094-0505

Additional Resources
Spokane C.O.P.S. - Identity Theft Program
(509) 625-3328
Samantha Purcell, Crime Victim Advocate, Spokane COPS
spurcell@spokanecops.org
Contact them to make a presentation on Identify Theft awareness. 
http://www.spokanecops.org/site/6ff94093/everything-you-need-to-know-about-identity-theft?preview=true