McGrath: Security Freeze an Option to Protect Consumers
HELENA – Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath Wednesday reminded Montana consumers who are concerned about the safety of their credit information that a security freeze is one of the most effective ways to deter identity theft.
“Since July of last year, Montanans have had the option to proactively ‘lock up’ their credit information so no one can access it without their permission,” McGrath said. “The freeze prevents a thief from falsely using someone else’s identity to apply for a credit card or get other credit.”
The freeze is easily lifted if consumers plan to make a major purchase, open a new credit card or take out a loan. The new law took effect July 1, 2007.
Here’s how the freeze works in Montana:
- To place a freeze, consumers contact each of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – and provide identifying information and pay the $3 fee to each bureau. The $3 fee is waived for consumers who are victims of identity theft. In such cases, the consumer must place the freeze within 24 hours of filing a police report and must submit a copy of the report to the credit bureaus.
- The bureaus must place the freeze on an account within five business days. Each bureau will then send written notice that the freeze is in place. The confirmation will include a personal identification number (PIN) and will have instructions on how to lift the security freeze.
- Once the freeze is in place, a creditor who requests information will get a message or code indicating the file is frozen.
- To temporarily remove a freeze, consumers must contact the credit bureaus by phone, using the PIN. There is a $3 fee per credit bureau and consumers can specify whether the freeze should be lifted for a specific date range, or for a specific creditor.
- To permanently lift a security freeze, consumers must call the credit bureaus and use the PIN. There is no fee to permanently lift a freeze.
McGrath said a fraud alert is another option. A fraud alert is a special message that people who suspect they may be identity theft victims can have placed on the report a credit issuer receives when it checks a consumer’s credit rating. The alert tells the credit issuer there may be fraudulent activity on an account.
“A fraud alert is not the same as a security freeze,” McGrath said. “While a fraud alert may slow down the process of someone getting credit in your name, it does not stop it.
“A security freeze will stop someone else getting new credit in your name.”