DIY credit security
September 9, 2017 6:02 AM   Subscribe

I have frozen the 3 major credit bureau reporting services to give out my information several years ago. I need to pay money and supply a pin number to unlock and re-lock each account if I need to. In light of the recent EquiFax leak, is there anything else I can do?

What DIY credit security can I do without paying a monthly fee?
posted by BillyAnne to Work & Money (4 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If you happen to be a Capital One customer, they provide Credit Wise for free, which monitors your report through TransUnion. I also use CreditKarma, which monitors your credit score on TransUnion and Equifax for free and can notify you every time there are changes to your credit report.
posted by houseofleaves at 7:55 AM on September 9

You can get your free credit report periodically and review it for problems. I like to cycle through the different agencies so that I can get a free report three times a year. Here is a nice detailed piece on correcting problems in your credit report.
posted by exogenous at 1:00 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]

I think there's a couple different definitions of 'DIY credit security': Prevention and Monitoring.

If you are trying to prevent ID theft, then the credit freeze is the most nuclear option available - it leaves little room for error because, as you mention, you yourself have to specifically request it to be lifted for a specific time or a specific creditor you are working with in order to make it available to them. This normally does incur a nominal fee if you do not file an actual ID theft report with the CRAs, in which case it should be free, but those are based on an actual case of ID theft, and frankly a pain in the ass to get (police reports, FTC form, etc).

Plus, you're usually dealing with them via snail mail. Several years ago I was an ID theft victim, and I paid the $5 fee (for each of the three) to enact an immediate security freeze with no documentation needed because the ID theft was actually in progress. I froze them the same evening I got the phone call from the one creditor who actually was vigilant enough to contact me to verify I had requested an account, which I had not. I didn't have time to go through the paperwork BS to have it be free and I had no expectations of requesting new credit in the near future, so the $5 (actually $15 total since I did all three CRAs) was totally worth it.

The other option is a fraud alert. This you can do easily, and free, online, but it's only good for 90 days but you can renew as often as you need. This makes it easier to obtain credit, since instead of getting a pin and filing this and that and all the other BS, you simply register your phone contact info on the alert and creditors will* contact you to confirm any attempt to obtain credit in your name, and the verification process is quick. It's also simpler to place - you only need to place one fraud alert with one CRA, and they are required to notify the other two to do the same. With a freeze you have to do all 3 separately.

(* Actually, they should. In theory to my knowledge there's no hard or legal requirement. Instances of this not happening do exist but they're few and far between and never with any reputable and big name creditors.)

Now, that covers up-front ID theft protection. The other side of the coin is monitoring your own report for changes. In this case, Credit Karma and Credit Sesame are the primary free options (and you would want both as neither covers all three CRAs). I will caution, however, that in my continued experience with both, there can be a significant lag (as in many days) before you get notified of a change. It was a week and a half before CK notified me that the inquiry on my auto lease was reported to the CRA. In contrast, I got a notification within an hour or two from the paid service I use.

Speaking from experience, knowing what it took to get rid of a single account that had made it through to my report, I understand what a hassle it is for people who go longer periods of time without knowing, and when they find it, there's multiple fraudulent accounts there. Based on info I have, without the fraud alert I would have had as many as 6 or 7. That would have been an absolute nightmare, so for me it's worth a monthly fee to ensure if it does happen again I can immediately nip it in the bud. YMMV.

WayTL;DR: It's really a case of you get what you pay for. Main problem being the CRAs are for-profit companies; they make money off of what they do and the info they provide; they're not in it to protect you (much less help you do it for free). That's why it took a law to get them to let you see your own report for free once a year. The free (CK, CS, CapOne) services do exist, but they do pay to provide you the information you get, so they reduce that cost by only checking periodically, along with pushing you to get new credit of course.

It sounds like you have already taken the most protective step available to you in the form of a credit freeze. As long as you don't mind the hassle when it comes time for someone to need to look at your report, that's your most secure option.

It all depends on what level of monitoring you want. PM me if you have more specific questions; I've learned a lot from my experience with ID theft and self-credit repair and am happy to share.
posted by SquidLips at 1:49 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]

SquidLips, Thanks so much for your great answer!!!! I did need to unblock the security freeze when getting a copy of my SS card to verify my identity. It worked well.
posted by BillyAnne at 4:04 PM on September 9

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