Q. With all of the recent hacking going on (internet not coughing) I’m concerned about my information that is “out there.” I think identity theft plans are a rip off so I’d like to avoid those. What if anything else could I do to help prevent identity theft?
A. Strong passwords are always a good preventative step. You could also place a “freeze” on your credit report, if your state allows this (North Carolina does). This freeze will prohibit anyone from opening an account or getting new credit under your name. If you are not planning to open any new credit lines or apply for any loans, this could be the ideal way for you to protect yourself from identity theft.
If you place a freeze it will cost you approximately $9 ($3 to each credit reporting bureau) to place a security freeze on your credit file and the same amount if you want to unfreeze your credit file. If you have been an identity theft victim and have a copy of a police report or a DMV (department of motor vehicles) investigative report, live in North Carolina and are age 62 or over or place the freeze on-line there is no charge to place a security freeze. If you don’t use the on-line service you will send a letter of instruction to each bureau indicating that you want to place a security freeze on your credit file. In addition to the payment, the letter must include the following: your full name, address and or addresses over the last five years, Social Security number, date of birth and two items as proof of residence (copy of utility bill, driver’s license, bank statement etc.). The payment can be made by check, money order or credit card with the exception of Trans Union which only accepts payment by credit card.
There is no time limit on a credit freeze, it will stay in effect until you decide to remove it. You can remove it temporarily by unfreezing and refreezing or remove it permanently. You’ll want to unfreeze your credit report when you are applying for any new credit, taking out a loan or applying for a job which requires a credit check. Once your security freeze is in place you will receive a PIN and instructions on how to lift the freeze. The bureaus may charge up to $10 fee to lift the freeze.
Even with a security freeze in place, creditors can still use your information to offer you pre-approved credit. You can stop these offers by either calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT or going online at optputprescreen.com
It’s a good idea to check your credit file disclosure or credit report once every 12 months. You can request a free credit report from all three credit reporting bureaus once a year. You can request your free credit report on-line at annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.
Wishing you all a very safe and Happy New Year and many to follow.
Holly Nicholson is a certified financial planner in Raleigh. She cannot answer every question. Reach her at askholly.com or P.O. Box 97128, Raleigh, NC 27624