Credit Freezes: How They Work and How to Place One

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Credit Freezes: How They Work and How to Place One

Did you know that your credit is actually a pretty big deal? The condition of your credit reports and scores is going to be used to judge you over and over again throughout your entire adult life. Want to lease a new apartment? Your credit matters. Ready to purchase a home or a vehicle? Your credit matters. Taking out a new insurance policy? Your credit matters again. In fact, your credit might even determine whether or not an employer wants to hire you for a job.

In a world where your credit clearly matters so very much, the importance of protecting your credit simply cannot be overstated. Sound credit management habits are essential, but that alone is not enough to ensure that your credit stays in tip top shape. You also need to understand the ever-present need to protect your credit reports from fraud.

Thankfully there are a number of methods which you can (and should) employ in order to protect your credit reports. However, nothing can protect your credit reports from fraud better than a credit freeze.

What Is a Credit Freeze?

If you have ever been a victim of identity theft then you may already be familiar with the credit freezes which are offered by each of the 3 major credit reporting agencies - Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Even if your identity has never been stolen, more and more consumers are taking advantage of the credit freeze tool in light of the ever increasing number of data breaches which continue to compromise the personal identifying information of so many Americans.

As mentioned above a credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, offers you the most effective way to protect your credit reports. A credit freeze allows you to restrict access to your credit reports. When you place a freeze on your 3 credit reports those reports are actually taken out of circulation. No new lender will be able to access your credit reports unless you first "thaw" your reports. As a result, if a crook tries to apply for a fraudulent account in your name the application is probably going to be denied whenever the lender is prevented from pulling your credit reports. Your information may still be out there, but the identity thief will typically be unable to open new accounts in your name.

How to Place a Credit Freeze

Anyone can place a freeze on their credit reports and it is generally inexpensive to do so (typically $3 - $10 per credit bureau). If you can prove that you are a victim of identity theft then even that small fee may potentially be waived.

It is important to remember that you will need to contact each of the 3 credit reporting agencies individually in order to freeze your 3 credit reports. Freezing a single credit report or even 2 of your reports will not adequately protect you from fraud. You can request a credit freeze online or via phone:

Once you have successfully placed a credit freeze each credit reporting agency will provide you with a PIN number which you can use to thaw your credit reports in the future if desired. (NOTE: You might be charged another fee to remove a freeze from your credit reports as well.)

A Credit Freeze Will NOT...

  • Stop Prescreened Credit Offers

Believe it or not, in the United States it is actually legal for credit card issuers and insurance companies to access some of your credit information without your permission. The catch is that the company must send you a "firm offer of credit or insurance" in order to access your credit. A credit freeze will not stop you from receiving such prescreened offers. However, if desired you can always opt out of these anytime at OptOutPrescreen.com.

  • Prevent You from Checking Your Own Credit

You will still be able to access your own personal credit reports even if they are frozen. You can also still take advantage of your free annual credit reports via AnnualCreditReport.

  • Impact Your Credit Scores

Credit scoring models are not designed to pay any attention to whether or not your credit reports are frozen. As a result, placing a credit freeze will not impact your credit scores - for the positive or the negative.

  • Prevent You from Getting New Credit

When you place a credit freeze on your reports you are going to need to plan ahead before you apply for new financing in the future. You are able to request a lift of your credit freeze at any time (additional fees may apply) and the credit reporting agency must honor your request within 3 business days or less. Keep in mind that if you plan to apply for a job where an employer may wish to check your credit then you will need to plan ahead to lift your credit freezes in this situation as well.

Already a Victim of Identity Theft?

If you are already a victim of identity theft then placing a credit freeze on your reports is not going to solve all of your problems. A credit freeze may help to thwart future fraudulent activity on your credit reports, but you are still going to need to take steps to undo the existing damage.

Thankfully the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provides extensive protections if you have been a victim of identity theft. You can exercise those rights on your own or you can hire a professional credit repair expert to work on your behalf.

CLICK HERE to schedule a no-obligation credit analysis with a HOPE4USA credit expert.







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Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with a decade and a half of experience, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, and a regularly featured speaker at seminars across the country. She is an expert on improving credit scores, budgeting, and identity theft. You can connect with Michelle on the HOPE4USA Facebook page by clicking here.


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Equifax Data Breach: How to Find Out If You're Affected and What to Do About It If You Are

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Equifax Data Breach: How to Find Out If You're Affected and What to Do About It If You Are

Last week credit reporting giant Equifax announced some very unsettling news. Equifax fell down on the job. There is no other way to put it.

The credit reporting agency experienced a massive data breach which unfortunately compromised the personal identifying information of approximately 143 million people. For a company which makes billions of dollars collecting, storing, and selling your private information this breakdown in security is not just negligent, it is inexcusable. 

If you understandably missed this disturbing announcement last week amidst all of the news coverage about Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, here is what you need to know right now.

Why This Breach Is a Big Deal

Data breaches have occurred with increasing regularity over the past several years. Insurance providers, hospitals, retail chains, online gaming services, and many other businesses have experienced cyber theft which compromised the personal information of millions. In fact, it almost feels as if you cannot turn on the news or log into your favorite social media newsfeed without hearing about a new breach of security.

The regularity of these data breaches can unfortunately be desensitizing. It can cause you to drop your guard. That, however, could be a dangerous mistake especially if your information has indeed been compromised in the Equifax breach.  

Equifax's breach does not simply involve credit card information which can be easily changed to prevent fraud. Instead, the breach involves exposed information you are not going to be able to change: names, social security numbers, dates of birth, etc. The hacked information could be sat on for years, allowing you to forget about the danger, before any actual fraud or identity theft is even attempted. The stolen information will be just as valuable to thieves in the next week, the next month, the next year, and even potentially the next decade to come. If you were among the 143 million consumers compromised, your exposure to identity theft is now a long term risk.

Action May Be Needed. Panic Is Unnecessary.  

Now that you have digested the bad news, let's talk about what you can do to protect yourself. Panic is not going to solve anything, but a solid plan can go a long way.

1. Find Out If You Are a Victim

Equifax maintains credit files on over 200 million consumers. That means that approximately 29% of you were fortunate enough not to have your personal information compromised. You can find out if you were exposed to the data breach here: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/.

(NOTE: Equifax initially came under fire on social media and from several lawmakers, including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), for including fine print in the terms of service on the above webpage which reportedly may have attempted to dupe consumers into waiving their rights to enter a class action lawsuit or to sue Equifax over the breach. Equifax has since changed their terms of service to remove the offending clause. Really, Equifax?!)

2. One-Call Fraud Alerts

If you visit the website above and discover that your "personal information may have been impacted by this incident" then placing a fraud alert on your credit reports may be a good next step. You can easily place a 90 day fraud alert on all 3 of your credit reports by requesting an alert with Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian. Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), once any of the credit bureaus receives a request for a fraud alert they must communicate that request to the other 2 remaining bureaus on your behalf.

The FCRA also gives you the right to place an extended, 7 year fraud alert on your reports as well. However, you will first need to prove that you have actually been a victim of identity theft (aka someone has opened or tried to open a fraudulent account in your name). Both types of alerts are free under the FCRA.

3. Credit Monitoring

Equifax is offering free credit monitoring (TrustedID) for 1 year to anyone who wants to take advantage of the offer. It is not a bad idea to take advantage of this offer, but it is probably not going to be enough. You need to keep in mind that this is a 3-bureau credit monitoring service but you will only have access to your Equifax credit report. Additionally, the service is only free for 1 year and you will need to monitor your reports for much longer than that (forever essentially) if you were a victim.

If you want to truly keep an eye for fraud on your credit reports then a 3-bureau monitoring service with access to all 3 of your credit reports is probably best. However, you will probably have to pay a fee for such a service. There are a lot of good services out there which offer 3-bureau and 3-score monitoring with 3-report access. Some are more expensive than others. If you are looking for some comparisons of available services, visit http://www.greatcredit101.com/credit-reports-and-monitoring/.

It has always been important to routinely check, monitor, and review your credit reports for fraud and errors. If your information has been exposed in the Equifax data breach, that importance has simply become magnified for you more than ever before.

4. Credit Freeze

Fraud alerts can potentially help to prevent identity theft and credit monitoring can help you to quickly discover fraud when it occurs. However, if you want a tool which can help to prevent fraudulent accounts from being opened in the first place then a credit freeze is the biggest gun you can use to defend yourself.

When you place a credit freeze your credit report is taken out of circulation. This means that no future lender will be able to access your reports. If a scammer tries to use your information to open a fraudulent account then the freeze will stop a lender from pulling your credit and, viola, any future loan applications will most likely be denied as a result. Almost no lender is going to approve a new application if they cannot pull your credit.

It is worth pointing out that it is not free to place a credit freeze unless you have actually already been a victim of fraud. However, credit freezes are relatively inexpensive (under $10 per credit bureau at the time of publication). Unlike fraud alerts, you must place an individual freeze at Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.

Additionally, the credit bureaus also offer a service known as a "credit lock." Equifax has even announced that it will be giving away credit locks for free to victims of the breach. While credit locks are advertised by the credit bureaus as more convenient than freezes,  it is unclear whether or not they offer the same protections. Credit freezes are generally covered by state law, potentially giving you more protection in the event that there is a problem.

5. Keep It In Perspective

The truth is that identity theft is a growing crime. Over $16 billion dollars was stolen by fraudsters and approximately 15.4 US consumers were affected by identity theft in 2016 alone. Even before this Equifax data breach, your personal information may have been vulnerable to thieves in one way or another.

It has always been and will continue to be your personal responsibility to check your credit reports regularly in order to verify that they contain only accurate information about accounts you really applied for and opened yourself. (Remember, you can check your 3 credit reports every 12 months for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.) If you ever discover fraudulent accounts on your credit reports the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you a long list of rights with a lot of teeth to help you recover from the identity theft.

If you want some tips on how to recover from identity theft, CLICK HERE. You have the right to try to correct identity theft issues on your own, but you can also hire a professional credit expert to work on your behalf if you are too busy or feel too overwhelmed by the process.









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Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with a decade and a half of experience, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, and a regularly featured speaker at seminars across the country. She is an expert on improving credit scores, budgeting, and identity theft. You can connect with Michelle on the HOPE4USA Facebook page by clicking here.


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Credit Scams You Should Avoid

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Credit Scams You Should Avoid

Poor credit can lead to a lot of painful and embarrassing moments. If you are currently struggling with credit problems then you already know just how miserable bad credit can be. Credit problems can make it difficult to secure a place to live, to finance a vehicle, to qualify for a credit card or loan, and even to do something as simple as opening a new utility account without a sizable deposit.

Unfortunately, scammers are very aware that bad credit makes life hard too. They know that many consumers are absolutely desperate to change their credit situations and they eagerly try to prey upon this desperation. Thankfully, you can help to protect yourself from these con artists by learning a little more about some of the most common credit scams you need to avoid.

The New Credit Identity Scam

One of the most popular credit scams involves the practice of paying someone to create a "new" credit identity for you. On the surface, it is understandable why the idea of a fresh start might sound attractive to you. Unfortunately, what a scammer will not tell you is that by using a "new" identity you could actually be guilty of committing a number of different crimes.

The new credit identity scam, also known as file segregation, typically involves a few steps. First a fraudulent company, likely pretending to be a credit repair outfit, will offer to sell you a new credit identity number (typically an EIN number or a CPN number) which you can use in place of your social security number on future credit applications. By using this alternative number you will be creating a separate or segregated credit file with each of the credit bureaus which will supposedly replace your old, damaged credit files. Yet not only is this file segregation scheme typically illegal, it can also be expensive and ineffective.

Fees for new credit identity services often run into the thousands of dollars, although the scammer will probably try to argue that the fee is a small price to pay for an instant fix to all of your credit woes. Be careful not to be fooled by such tactics.

Additionally, when you use an EIN or CPN number in place of your social security number on a credit application you are likely guilty of bank fraud. If you submitted a fraudulent application over the phone, online, or via mail then you might be guilty of wire fraud or mail fraud as well. Furthermore, that EIN or CPN number you thought you were purchasing could actually be a real social security number which has been stolen from someone else. (Are you really surprised that your friendly neighborhood scammer might be an identity thief as well?) If you use someone else's social security number on a credit application then you might just be guilty of committing identity theft yourself.

The Tradeline Rental Scam

Piggybacking is a term which refers to the process of being added to someone else's existing credit card account as an authorized user. Becoming an authorized user on someone else's credit card account can sometimes be a wise part of your overall credit improvement strategy. If you are added onto an older, well managed credit card account it certainly has the potential to help improve your credit scores when (and if) that positive account shows up on your credit reports. However, the authorized user strategy is only really safe and effective when done with someone whom you know personally.

Tradeline renting describes the process of paying to piggyback on a stranger's credit card account in an attempt to trick the credit scoring system. Typically you pay a middle man (most likely a sizable fee) who will then act as an agent to connect you with someone who is willing to add you onto their account as an authorized user. The bad news if you fall for the tradeline renting scam is that you could be guilty of bank fraud and a number of other associated crimes as well. To add insult to injury, newer versions of FICO's credit scoring models have been designed with logic that helps to detect fraudulent tradeline renting. So, not only can tradeline renting be expensive and illegal, there is a chance that it might not even work. 

Legitimate Credit Help

Although you should be careful not to fall for credit scams, the good news is that there are legitimate credit repair professionals who may be able to help you with your credit problems. Remember, a trustworthy credit repair company will never ask you to change your identity, rent a tradeline from a stranger, or to pay upfront fees for services.

CLICK HERE or call 704-499-9696 to schedule a no-obligation credit analysis with a HOPE4USA credit expert today.






michelle-black-credit-expert

Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with a decade and a half of experience, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, and a regularly featured speaker at seminars across the country. She is an expert on improving credit scores, budgeting, and identity theft. You can connect with Michelle on the HOPE4USA Facebook page by clicking here.