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Protect Your Financial Information

If you are concerned by reports of a widespread data breach or believe your personal financial information has been compromised, the Commerce Department recommends the following actions:

Request a credit freeze on your credit report

A new federal law in September 2018 allows you to protect your personal financial information at the three major credit agencies by ordering a “credit freeze” – at no cost. A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, restricts access to your credit file, making it more difficult for criminals to open fraudulent new accounts or borrow money in your name.  The new law also allows you to freeze your children’s credit files at no cost to prevent identity theft.

Before the new law, ordering a credit freeze often involved a fee. Now there is no cost to freeze and unfreeze your credit file with each of three major credit agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). To be most effective, a freeze must be placed separately at each of the three credit agencies. Your credit freeze will stay in place until you request that it be lifted. Be aware that you will want to unfreeze your credit file if you are applying for credit or opening a new account such as a car loan, home mortgage or sometimes even a cellphone or cable TV account.You can order a credit freeze online, by phone or via the mail from each of the credit agencies. If you do it online or by phone, the freeze will take effect on the next business day.

When you set up a freeze, you will get a personal identification number (PIN) from each credit agency. You can use this PIN at any time to temporarily unfreeze your account whenever you apply for new credit. The credit agency must unfreeze your file within one hour of you notifying them. You can always re-freeze your credit file, again at no cost.

What is a child credit freeze?

A child credit freeze allows you to freeze your child’s credit file until he or she is old enough to use credit. With the new law, you can get a free credit freeze for your children under age 16. You must order a child credit freeze with each credit agency.

Place a fraud alert on your credit report

When you have a “fraud alert” with a credit agency, it tells any business that runs your credit that they should check with you before opening a new account. It does not protect you as much as a credit freeze, but it is an option for people who prefer not having to freeze and unfreeze their credit files. 

A fraud alert is free, but it used to last only 90 days. With the new law, an initial fraud alert will now last for one year. Identity theft victims can still get an extended fraud alert for seven years.

If you place a fraud alert with one of the credit agencies, it will automatically create an alert at the other two.

Learn how to understand your credit report.

Check for suspicious or unauthorized activities

Review your credit report and if you find accounts fraudulently opened in your name, close them and contact your credit card companies to reissue new cards if any legitimate accounts have been compromised.

Closely monitor your accounts with creditors including credit cards companies, banks, credit union, and other lenders during the months following any breach.

Consider filing your tax returns early

To prevent someone from fraudulently filing a tax return with your information, file as soon as you have all the needed information.

Beware of “asset recovery” scams

These scams pack a “double whammy” by targeting individuals who have already been victims of fraud. They will lure victims with the promise of getting your money back for an upfront fee and its unlikely they will deliver on their promise.

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