I’ve just finished up placing security freezes on both Dad and I. We’re both victims of the latest OPM breach of background investigation data having worked for government contractors. Daughter Person is also a victim, but in our state, we’re not allowed to place a freeze on her credit report as a minor (if we were still in VA, we could). It cost us about $60 for the both of us, but for the protection it offers, I think it’s worth it. Note: If you’re already a victim of identity fraud, you can generally get a security freeze for free with a copy of the police report, but you won’t be able to do it online.
What is a Credit Security Freeze?
Brian Krebs does a better job of explaining it, but the basic gist is that the credit reporting bureaus (all 4 of them!) will not release any of our credit information without us initiating a “thaw” first. In practice, this means that no one will extend “us” credit because they can’t verify how creditworthy we are. I’m sure there are some lenders who don’t bother to check, and we’ll have to deal with those accounts on a case-by-case basis. But, basically, if anyone tries to open a credit account/loan/etc in our names or using our socials, they won’t be able to. It’s a bit of a pain for us because we have to provide a special PIN (10-digits) and $10 to each agency to “thaw” our credit reports to obtain credit – no more card churning for us.
Why did we do it?
Why did we take the (rather) drastic step of freezing our credit reports? The data that is in the OPM eQIP system (used to electronically fill out the SF-86 form) includes our social security numbers (and those of people we live with – like each other and Daughter Person), other names, our addresses for the last 7 years, employment history, citizenship, and educational information. Some financial information is also included. If you’ve ever had to answer ChoicePoint’s set of “identification questions” based on your credit report – guess what someone (China?) has? OPM is planning on offering 3 years of fraud protection and insurance assuming we actually get the letter since my file is out of date (Dad’s should be current), but this information doesn’t really change, and now that that’s been announced, anyone who stole that data is just going to wait 3 years to use it.
We just got a mortgage, and we’ve already been approved for our car loan (whenever the car actually gets to the dealer), so I went ahead and initiated the freeze this week. We shouldn’t need to have our credit checked in the near future (until the Costco AMEX goes away and I have to decide what to replace it with), and I’ll have enough time to thaw the appropriate report before we apply.
Should you Freeze your Credit?
Unless you have reason to suspect that your social security number and other identifying information (like previous addresses) have been compromised, it’s a pretty drastic step, and I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’ve just had a credit card number taken and used fraudulently – don’t bother – this won’t prevent that type of fraud. Freezing your credit only prevents new credit from being issued in your name/social, it doesn’t affect existing accounts (including potentially fraudulent ones).
If you do decide to freeze your credit, check the fees in your state, then go to all four of the credit agencies and place the freeze: Equifax, Transunion, Experian, and Innovis. I was able to place the freeze online at all 4 agencies, but others have had to do it via mail, with a photocopy of an ID document. We had one issue with Equifax not giving Dad his 10 digit PIN once we froze his account, and we’re fighting with them to not have to file for a “change of PIN” with attendant $10 fee.
Hopefully, no one else is in this situation, because it’s a PITA, but a security freeze is one of the many things you can do to protect your credit rating/score.