By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt
It seems like nearly every week we hear news reports about another company or organization whose data has been breached, putting its customers’ information at risk for identity theft. While there is little you can do to prevent the companies you do business with from getting hacked, there are steps you can take that may help protect you in the event your information is stolen.
One of those steps you might want to consider is to place a “security freeze” on your credit report. You may have recently heard that a new federal law, which took effect in September, now makes it free for consumers to “freeze” or “thaw” their credit reports. In Kansas, we were ahead of the national trend, as the Legislature passed a state law requiring free security freezes for Kansas consumers, which took effect on July 1.
A security freeze prohibits the credit bureaus, with certain exceptions, from releasing your credit report or any information on it without your express authorization. That makes it hard for identity thieves to open new accounts using your Social Security Number, since the credit check would come back showing that the report has been frozen. That also means, however, it will be difficult for you to open new accounts while your report is frozen. 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. Freezes will remain in place indefinitely, until you choose to thaw your report.
Another option that is now available under the new federal law is year-long fraud alerts. Fraud alerts are also free, and do not lock down your credit report in the same way as a security freeze. A fraud alert will allow creditors to access your report, but requires them to take additional steps to verify your identity before opening a new account. Previously, these alerts only lasted for 90 days. Under the new law, fraud alerts will last for a year – or seven years if you have been the victim of identity theft and provide a copy of an identity theft complaint. You may file an identity theft complaint with our office online at www.InYourCornerKansas.org.
All requests for a security freeze or fraud alert should be made in writing, whether by mail or online. You can find more information on how to place these, including links to the credit bureaus’ online forms, on our consumer protection website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org.