There are so many things you could spend $30 or 30 minutes on this holiday season. “What is the best way?” you may be asking yourself. Well self, I have an answer for you and it’s not what you think! Sure, you could get approximately three Chipotle burritos with guac, 1/8 of a bottle of Tom Ford perfume, or one Chinese foot massage- but why not get a gift that keeps on giving? A gift that will save you endless hours of headache and heartache…
Drum roll please…
The best $30 you can spend this holiday season is on not one… not two… but three credit freezes! Talk about getting the most bang for your buck.
“WTF is she talking about?” self is now asking.
I am talking about a CREDIT FREEZE. A credit freeze prevents ID thieves- and even you- from opening up any new lines of credit in your name. More info “What is Credit” here! It is not the same as a fraud alert (which can only be placed post-theft) or credit monitoring (which still allows your credit to be used but you get notified, not to mentioned charged, for the privilege.) A credit freeze is preventative, does not harm your score, does not affect your current accounts, does not stop your credit from growing and can easily be removed as needed. It is basically your new best friend.
In this day and age of information, it is not a matter of IF your identity will be stolen, but WHEN your identity will be stolen. When your identity is stolen a thief can do any number of things -not limited to opening up new credit cards, opening up a mortgage, or opening up 5 lines of cell phones on Verizon and sticking YOU with the bill. Keep in mind this is not the same thing as credit card fraud, where someone uses your credit card for illegal purchases – that is something to take up with your bank- more on that another time.
The last scenario is what happened to me in October, and I’m one of the lucky ones. The thieves used my Social Security Number, misspelled name and botched address to order $800 worth of new cell phones online. Thankfully the botched address still managed to reach Ms. Rackhoen and she was not too happy. You know how easy it is to call your cell phone company, tell them you want to break up with them and pay the fee? (It is, trust). Yea… it’s 1000 times more difficult to close a line when you say “I didn’t do it,” than when you did.
Closing this fraudulent account required a police visit, police reports, proving my identity by sending in actual bills, ID photos, hours of paperwork and follow up on the phone. If the botched billing didn’t miraculously reach me, I would be racking up thousands of dollars in debt in my name that I never signed up for. This would damage my credit in the meantime and take who knows how long to undo.
It was not fun at all. And the worst part about it all- it could have been easily prevented! Prevented with- you guessed it- $30 in 30 minutes.
How to Do It
There are 3 individual credit bureaus that you have to contact: Equifax, Experian and Transunion. Everything can be done online, and can easily be undone online when you need it. However, if you are planning to move, get a new job, new cell service or open a mortgage in the near future, you should wait until that’s done so you don’t have any problems. But otherwise grab your credit card and get ‘er done.
Each website is essentially the same- input your SSN, address, email etc. Experian lets you choose your PIN, Equifax mails you one and Transunion just requires that you create a username and password. DO NOT lose the PIN, otherwise you have to mail in a request for a new one and that is annoying and time consuming. Once you are done you will have to pay the fee of $5- $10. It’s free if you have identity theft, but trust me when I say it’s easier to just pay the $10 and be done with it.
Experian freeze & unfreeze link here
Equifax freeze & unfreeze link here
Transunion freeze & unfreeze link here
Lifting your freeze when you need it is easy. Experian and Equifax require you to type in the same identifying information as before, and Transunion has you log in with the user name that you created. You can select if you want to permanently remove the freeze or temporarily lift for a selected time period (which I recommend so you don’t have to re-freeze and pay again). In my experience the freezes were lifted almost instantly, but if you do need your freeze lifted, I suggest you give yourself a 3-5 day buffer so you aren’t holding up anything important. If you are not a victim of ID theft, there may be another $5-$10 fee to unfreeze your credit in the future, so be sure to ask whoever is requesting your credit which credit bureau they are going to use so you do not have to unfreeze and pay for them all.
And that’s it! The best way to spend $30 in 30 minutes. Don’t be lazy!! Do it for yourself, and spread the word.