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Consumer Corner: Security freezes provide extra layer of protection against ID theft

By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt

Recent high-profile data breaches by large retail chains have many Kansas consumers on alert for identity theft. It's important to check your bank and credit card statements every month for suspicious charges. However, another option to guard personal information is to put a security freeze on your credit report.

A security freeze prohibits the credit bureaus, with certain exceptions, from releasing your credit report or any information on it without your express authorization. Under Kansas law, victims of identity theft can obtain a security freeze for free by submitting documentation of the identity theft, such as a police report, to the credit bureaus. If you are not a victim of identity theft, the credit bureaus can charge you up to $5 for placing the security freeze.

All requests for a security freeze should be made in writing, whether by mail or online. The credit bureaus must place the freeze on your report within five days of receiving your request.

While a security freeze is in place, it will be very difficult for anyone - including you - to open new accounts in your name. If you wish to apply for a new loan, open a new credit card or bank account while the freeze is in place, you will need to contact the credit bureaus to temporarily lift the freeze. This will require giving them the password or PIN number you received when you put the freeze in place. For non-identity theft victims, the credit bureaus can charge you another $5 fee each time the freeze is lifted or put back in place.

Another way to protect your identity is through a credit monitoring service. These services will continuously monitor your credit report and send you an alert if there is any activity, including opening a new account or a change of address. When a large data breach occurs, companies often offer these services for free to affected consumers. Target recently announced that it is offering a free year of credit monitoring to its customers. You can sign up for Target's free monitoring service at https://creditmonitoring.target.com/.

To learn more about security freezes and other ways to prevent identity theft, visit the Attorney General's Consumer Protection website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org.