Recently, we warned you about the massive data breach that affected millions of members of Medicare. If you or a loved one has been affected by this breach, we advise you to accept the offer of free credit monitoring for two years through Experian offered in the official notification to victims. Along with free credit monitoring, freezing your credit is an effective step you can take to protect yourself from identity theft further. These opportunities present a two-pronged approach for your protection: surveillance through credit monitoring and a defense mechanism through freezing your credit. While credit monitoring through Maximus goes away after two years, the freeze is not subject to an expiration date. Locking down your credit might seem mind-numbing, but it’s a brain freeze worth having.
What To Do Right Away
Your compromised data from this breach includes your name, your address, your social security number, and more, including your confidential medical and prescription information. This information is sufficient to steal your identity, allowing thieves to damage your financial life and reputation. Stolen personal data is commonly used to open new lines of credit (sticking you with unauthorized debt), withdraw funds from your bank account (stealing your cash), or even commit medical identity theft (leaving you with high medical bills for care you didn’t receive). Any of these examples, or many more devious crimes thieves commit, cause you both financial harm and a frustrating mess to clean up! We believe it is in your best interest to freeze your credit. You’ll request by contacting each of the three big credit agencies websites dedicated to this service:
There is no way to freeze your credit in one fell swoop. Instead, you must do so individually with each agency. You can complete each freeze request online within 5-7 minutes, and in fact, it’s easier to do than obtaining your credit report. If you run into any snags with an online request, often caused by difficulty verifying your identity, or you care for an elderly loved one who is uncomfortable with technology, there are phone numbers to make a freeze credit request.
- Equifax – 1-800-349-9960
- Experian – 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion – 1-888-909-8872
You can also mail in a request to each agency; however, this is the slowest option and should be considered the last resort. Ironically, a mail-in request requires submitting proof of identity including your full social security number, the very data you’re trying to protect! With phone and online requests, your credit must be frozen within 24 hours; however, a mail-in request must be done within 3 days of receiving your request. Only Equifax offers an easy-to-use form to submit; however, you’ll need to write your own letter to TransUnion and Experian specifically requesting your credit to be frozen.
When making your request online, be sure to complete each data field carefully, as it helps consumers avoid being forced into the phone or mail-in option. Uncheck any solicitation opt-in boxes from these agencies. Receiving a few unwanted junk emails, the pros of freezing your credit far outweigh the risks of not doing so.
How To Unfreeze
When you freeze your credit, you’ll select a PIN that will be needed to unfreeze your credit at any time in the future, so don’t lose it! Be sure to keep it somewhere safe until it’s needed. Down the road, when you need to open your credit once more, you can choose to either temporarily or permanently unfreeze it. Take note, however, that while your credit is frozen, you can (and you should) continue to check your credit report for suspicious activity through Maximus’ free two-year monitoring.
Using your online account is the fastest method for both requesting and achieving a temporary unfreeze request. Be prepared ahead of time should you need to make a purchase or close a deal that requires a credit check. A temporary unfreeze normally lasts for fifteen days, allowing lenders ample time to run a credit check. Examples include refinancing your home, applying for a car loan, or applying for a job. Unlock your credit first, and then go make your financial plans.
Alternatively, instead of freezing your credit altogether, you can place a fraud alert on your credit report if you suspect you have already fallen victim to fraud. This article on consumer.ftc.gov explains the difference should you choose to go this route.
At the end of the day, whether you opt for credit monitoring, freezing your credit, or placing a fraud alert on your credit report, protecting yourself after this massive Medicare data breach or future data breaches taking action is the best way to protect yourself.
At Organized Instincts, our team of daily money managers will help you take the steps necessary to freeze your credit. Schedule a no-obligation conversation today and learn how locking your credit is a brain freeze worth having.
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