Little by little, a weapon against identity theft is gaining currency -- but few people know about it.
It's called the security freeze, and it lets individuals block access to their credit reports until they personally unlock the files by contacting
the credit bureaus and providing a PIN code.
The process is a bit of a hassle, and the credit-reporting industry believes it complicates things unnecessarily.
But it appears to be one of the few ways to virtually guarantee that a fraudster cannot open an account in your name.
The freeze became an option in California and Texas last year, and Louisiana and Vermont will allow it beginning next July. However, the Texas and
Vermont laws apply only to people who already have been victimized by identity theft.
Only 2,000 Californians and 150 Texans have taken advantage of the freeze, according to Experian Inc., one of the three major credit bureaus.
But identity theft watchdogs say usage is low simply because the credit bureaus don't publicize the option. With identity theft apparently growing,
the advocates hope the freeze gains national momentum. Congress resisted calls for a freeze rule during debate over a major credit law last year.
The Internet and consumer databases have made it easier than ever to find someone else's social security number and apply for accounts in that name.
Meanwhile, obtaining credit is a breeze, as zero-percent financing offers crowd our mailboxes and appliance stores make no-money-down come-ons.
People who suspect trouble can place fraud alerts on their credit reports. But identity theft watchdogs say the alerts are often ignored by creditors
who are willing, say, to gamble that the potential plasma TV purchaser in front of them is legitimate, and write off any losses that might occur if
the person turns out to be a con artist.
The freeze costs nothing for ID theft victims in the states it is allowed. Louisiana's freeze is also free for people 62 and older.
For everyone else in California and Louisiana, the initial freeze is $10. Unfreezing it temporarily is $8 in Louisiana and up to $12 in California.
But the cost of each step is multiplied by three because it must be performed with all three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and
With the freeze on, if someone applies for credit in your name, the creditor will be unable to check your history, and the applicant will get
rejected. (The freeze won't keep credit card offers out of the mail -- those are generated through a "prescreening" process that doesn't require
full examination of your credit until you actually apply for the card.)
If you want to apply for credit or let someone run a background check on you, you have to call the credit bureaus, provide the PIN, and say who -- a
landlord, for example -- will be inquiring about your history. Or you can thaw the credit report for a given period of time -- a week in which you're
shopping for cars, for example.
So, anyone here been a victim of I.D. theft, will you use this tool if available in your area ? Would you use this if it becomes available in your
I think that I would, better safe than sorry.