For almost two years now, security breaches of all sorts have made the news. Hackers attacked retail stores and stole credit card numbers and other data, and they have attacked banks, medical insurers, and various governmental institutions. Add to that the odd attack against an online service caught off-guard by hackers – Ashley Madison comes immediately to mind – and the chances are that some of your data may have ended up in the wrong hands.
Criminals can clone your credit cards, at least until you’ve canceled them, but the worst thing that can happen is having your identity stolen. In such a case, you might be in for a wild ride as you’re trying to get your identity back.
The higher-profile the hack, the bigger the chances that the affected retailer or bank will get you complimentary identity theft protection coverage. But as the Washington Post reveals, these are only temporary fixes limited to up to two years of protection. And they don’t prevent identity theft, they just tell you when someone uses your data to pretend they’re you.
The way to go is to freeze your credit, regardless of whether your personal data was breached or not. A credit freeze filed with the three major national credit bureaus will prevent companies from accessing your credit when a criminal tries to use your personal data to set up accounts and services.
The process is reversible, so you can unfreeze it when you need a loan or want to do something that involves a credit check.
In those cases where you can prove you have been the victim of identity theft, you’ll get free security freezes. But certain states offer free freezes and freeze lifts.
The news site notes that there are seven states that offer free freezes regardless of whether you’ve been a victim or not, including New York and Colorado.
As for pricing, credit freezes are available to all consumers for anywhere between $3 and $10, while lifting a freeze can cost from $2 to $12 depending on the state, according to a report from U.S. PIRG, a consumer advocate organization.
However, the same report says that freezing your credit doesn’t prevent other kinds of identity theft. “It is important to note that neither credit monitoring nor a security freeze can detect or prevent unauthorized use of your existing credit accounts, tax refund fraud, medical fraud, or reputational or physical harm, by thieves,” the report notes.