Unfreeze credit report for car insurance
How credit freezes work, what they cost
They make your credit reports inaccessible to lenders
By Fred O. Williams | Updated: March 16, 2016
For a cost of up to around $30, you can prevent identity thieves from opening accounts in your name by freezing your credit report.
Credit freezes, also known as security freezes, place a lock on access to a borrower's credit report. With a credit freeze in place, lenders and other companies cannot view the borrower's credit. As a result, freezes prevent the consumer from gaining access to new loans, such as credit cards and mortgages, but they also keep fraudsters from opening new accounts in that person's name.
These freezes can subsequently be lifted temporarily or permanently by consumers, sometimes also for a price. However, in many states, you can avoid paying any fees at all by providing proof -- a police report, for example -- that you've already been a victim of fraud. (See chart below, "The cost of a credit freeze.")
"I think for anyone who is extremely concerned about the prospect of identity theft, there is no better tool than a credit freeze," says Joe Ridout, consumer services manager with the nonprofit consumer rights group Consumer Action. That's especially true for the elderly, who may already have all the credit they need but still remain susceptible to fraud.
Credit freezes can be a great tool for protecting yourself against identity theft, but they're not for everyone. If, for example, you suspect that you might be an ID theft target because of a data breach at a company where you use your card, setting a temporary fraud alert with the credit bureaus is a simpler and no-cost alternative.
Those who sell credit freezes don't like them much. "Freezing your credit file is an extreme step that removes you from the credit marketplace," says Rod Griffin, director of public education with the credit bureau Experian. "It is still very important to understand that freezing your credit file will not prevent identity theft, although it is often misrepresented in that way," Griffin says. Freezes, for example, don't prevent fraudsters from accessing an existing card account, if they already have the necessary information.
In place of credit freezes, the credit reporting industry typically promotes credit monitoring services, which bureaus and banks sell to their customers, or fraud alerts, which are available for free from the credit bureaus and do not block access to credit reports. A fraud alert requires lenders to verify your identity before opening a new account, usually by calling the phone number that you supply with the alert. Filing the alert also entitles you to a free copy of each of your credit reports, beyond the free copy that everyone may obtain annually.
The basics of credit freezes
Credit freezes go further than either credit monitoring or alert by making credit reports inaccessible to lenders and others who might have an interest in viewing a consumer's credit history. Available from each of the three major credit bureaus, the credit freeze comes at a price -- anywhere from free to $10 per bureau, with the cost determined by state laws -- but will remain in place indefinitely, provided the consumer doesn't remove the freeze. The Identity Theft Resource Center offers a state-by-state listing of freeze fees and other ID theft resources.
A freeze on credit is different from other fraud prevention tools. Critics of fraud alerts say even when they are in place, not all lenders take the step of notifying a borrower abou credit inquiries. They also argue that credit monitoring -- which must be renewed every year or so -- only lets borrowers know that fraud may have taken place. But by then, it's already too late.
|FREEZE YOUR CREDIT ONLINE|
Although the process and price of freezing your credit differs by state, each of the three major credit bureaus provide information on their websites about how to freeze credit online.Equifax
Consumer advocates say that credit freezes typically cost less than other options and are even free for some consumers. "A credit freeze is both cheaper and far more effective than credit monitoring," says Ridout. He says that although credit monitoring services have millions of subscribers, they remain an "unambiguous waste of money." Only a small one-time fee -- often $10 -- is required to place a credit freeze at each of the three bureaus, while credit monitoring can cost the consumer $120 or more each year, says Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy with the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
For many consumers, "it would be much more economical to obtain a security freeze and make a one-time payment, which would be the case for most people, and then be done with it," he says.
Credit freezes are also becoming easier to use. "We have been able to make significant improvements in the credit file freezing process since it was first instituted several years ago. In most instances, freezes can be lifted via the Internet or telephone in a matter of minutes," says Experian's Griffin.
So who's the best fit for a credit freeze? "The advantages of a credit freeze rise with age," says Ridout. That's because younger consumers tend to frequently apply for credit cards, mortgages and new jobs, while senior citizens have less need for credit but more reason to be cautious. "As people get older, it's been shown that the time necessary to recover from identity theft tends to go up," Stephens says. Plus, there comes a time when getting approved for more credit just isn't necessary. "At a certain point in life, you may have all the credit you need," Ridout says.
People involved in nasty divorces may also want to consider freezing their credit, since their spouse may have all the information (name, Social Security number, etc.) needed to open new accounts in their identity, says Stephens.
One credit freeze does not fit all
Unfortunately, the steps required to freeze credit aren't always clear. With no federal credit freeze law in place, consumers are left to navigate a patchwork of state laws. Consumer advocates acknowledge that this can present a challenge. "There really is no uniformity in terms of the costs and time frames for both placing and lifting credit freezes. You do find a tremendous difference from state to state," Stephens says. Every state in the Union except Michigan has enacted a law requiring credit bureaus to provide credit freezes, and the bureaus offer them voluntarily in the Wolverine State.
Prices vary. The cost to put a freeze in place ranges from free (for ID theft victims or senior citizens) in some states to $20 per freeze in Delaware, while the cost of unfreezing runs from free to $18. The most-common price is $10, but in 44 states, no fee is charged to identity theft victims. Twenty states require victims to provide a police report to qualify for a free freeze. The cost of unfreezing runs from free to $12.
Since it's necessary to line up freezes with all three major credit reporting bureaus -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion -- for complete protection, the cost for a freeze needs to be multiplied by three.
Credit freezes may cause some other headaches for consumers, including:
- No guarantee of protection. Freezes don't guarantee the consumer won't be victimized by fraudsters who access existing accounts or passwords, for example. "One thing the credit freeze won't do is prevent continued activity by an identity thief on an account they've already assumed," says Consumer Action's Ridout. Additionally, other types of fraud, such as employment fraud, insurance fraud and online auction fraud, aren't prevented, Griffin explains. "None of these identity frauds involve a credit report, so would not be prevented by a credit file freeze," he says.
- Not all access is frozen. Not everyone will be blocked from viewing a frozen credit report. For example, "businesses with which you have an existing relationship can still access your credit history as part of their portfolio management programs," Griffin says.
- PIN number required. To remove the freeze on your credit, you need to remember the PIN number associated with the freeze. "When it's months or years later, the consumer might not have the PIN number with them," says J. Craig Shearman, vice president of government affairs with the National Retail Federation, which advocates for the retail industry.
- More legwork. "Unlike a fraud alert, which can be placed on all three of your credit reports with one call to any one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies, you will need to contact each separately to establish a security freeze and receive your unique PIN number," says Steve Katz, spokesman for credit bureau TransUnion.
- Difficulty opening new accounts. "A frozen credit file can create substantial inconvenience and difficulty for consumers who will be applying for credit or other services, such as cellular telephone service," says Griffin. That's because the company may have to then contact the borrower, requesting removal of the credit freeze. In some cases, frozen credit could prevent or delay you from landing a job when the employer performs a background check that includes checking your credit report.
- Long wait for credit to unfreeze. "One of the biggest problems with a credit freeze is it takes a lot longer to thaw credit than it does to freeze it," says the NRF's Shearman. That could be a problem if you need credit in a hurry, such as a store credit card for an unexpected appliance purchase. "Let's say it's August and you need a new freezer and there's meat about to spoil," Shearman says. The meat could thaw long before your credit.
Consumer advocates say that the credit reporting industry has another reason for pushing other options instead of credit freezes: money. Banks and bureaus sell credit monitoring services to their customers and thus have a vested interest in promoting them. "The superior product doesn't have a corporation behind it. And for that reason, the credit freeze gets much less attention that it deserves," says Ridout.
And that's a shame, experts say. After all, a credit freeze is a good choice for many consumers, they say, but people can't take advantage of a tool they've never heard of.
|THE COST OF A CREDIT FREEZE|
|Below are examples of the costs associated with implementing and stopping a credit freeze in various states. These costs are determined by state law. (NOTE: These are the costs for doing these things with one credit bureau. For complete protection, it's necessary to do any of these actions with all three bureaus, thus the real cost would be three times the amount below.)|
|Initial placement||Temporary freeze lift||Lift freeze for specific lender||Permanent freeze removal||Replacement PIN|
|Details: Free if the consumer submits or has previously submitted a valid police report or Department of Motor Vehicle Investigative Report that alleges a violation of Section 530.5 of the Penal Code, the state's identity theft law. If the consumer is 65 or older, the fees drop to $5.|
|Details: Free for Florida residents who submit (or have previously submitted) a valid police report. If the consumer is 65 or older, no fee will be charged for a replacement PIN or to permanently remove a freeze. There is a $10 fee to temporarily lift the security freeze. Credit bureaus may lift freeze for a specific lender although it is not required under state law.|
|$0 for 1st freeze; subsequent freezes $5 each||$5||$5||$5||$5|
|Details: Free if the consumer submits or has previously submitted a valid police report or a signed FTC ID Theft Victim's Affidavit. Victims of domestic violence may also place or lift a freeze free of charge.|
|Details: Free to place, temporarily lift or permanently remove the security freeze, or obtain a replacement PIN, for consumers who submit a valid police report, investigative report or complaint made under Section 32.51 of the Penal Code.|
|Sources:Identity Theft Resource Center, Consumers Union |
See related: How to check for, fix ID theft or fraud, Familiar fraud: when friends, family steal your identityADVERTISEMENT ADVERTISEMENT Join the discussion We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.
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Summary Description of Benefits for the Experian Identity Theft Coverage
This Summary Description of Benefits (the "Summary") is provided to inform you that as a member of Experian CreditWorksSM you are entitled benefits under the Master Policy referenced below. This Summary does not state all the terms, conditions, and exclusions of the Master Policy. Your benefits will be subject to all of the terms, conditions, and exclusions of the Master Policy, even if they are not mentioned in this Summary. A complete copy of the Master Policy will be provided upon request.
The Master Policy of Fraud Safeguard Coverage for New York Insureds and the Master Policy of Personal Internet Identity Coverage for non-New York Insureds (collectively, the "Master Policy") have been issued to ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. (the "Master Policyholder"), under Policy Numbers: 1423382 and 7077868, respectively underwritten by insurance company subsidiaries or affiliates of American International Group, Inc. (hereinafter "AIG") to provide benefits as described in this Summary.
Should you have any questions regarding the Membership Program provided by the Master Policyholder, or wish to view a complete copy of the Master Policy, please call the Experian Customer Care Hotline at 1-866-960-6943.Limit of Insurance
|Aggregate Limit of Insurance:||$1,000,000||per policy period|
|Lost Wages:||$1,500||per week, for 5 weeks maximum|
|Travel Expenses:||$1,000||per policy period|
|Elder Care, Spousal Care & Child Care:||$2,000||per policy period|
|Deductible||$0||per policy period|
To report a Stolen Identity Event, please call the Experian CreditWorks℠ Customer Care Team at 1-866-960-6943 to be transferred to the Master Policyholder´s Fraud Resolution Unit.Filing a Claim
If you have any questions regarding the identity theft insurance coverage or wish to file a claim under the Master Policy, please contact the Insurer at 1-866-IDHelp2 (1-866-434-3572).
If the Master Policy is terminated, your benefits will cease effective the date of such termination. It is the obligation of the Master Policyholder to inform you of any termination of the Master Policy.
- We shall pay you for the following in the event of a Stolen Identity Event:
- Costs incurred by you for re-filing applications for loans, grants, other credit or debt instruments that are rejected solely because the lender received from any source incorrect information as a result of a Stolen Identity Event;
- Costs for notarizing affidavits or other similar documents, long distance telephone calls, and postage reasonably incurred as a result of your efforts to report a stolen identity event or amend or rectify records as to your true name or identity as a result of a stolen identity event; and
- Costs incurred by you for a maximum of six (6) credit reports from an entity approved by us. The first credit report may not be requested until after the discovery of a stolen identity event;
- Costs incurred by you for ordering medical records for the purpose of amending and/or rectifying these documents as a result of a stolen identity event
- Costs approved by us, for providing periodic reports on changes to, and inquiries about the information contained in the insured´s credit reports or public databases (including, but not limited to credit monitoring services);
- Costs incurred by you for travel within the United States incurred as a result of the insured´s efforts to amend or rectify records as to the insured´s true name and identity; and
- Costs incurred by you for elder care or child care incurred as a result of the insured´s efforts to amend or rectify records as to the insured´s true name or identity.
- Costs incurred by you for the replacement of identification cards, drivers licenses and passports as a result of a stolen identity event
- Lost Wages Actual lost wages that would have been earned in the United States, its territories or possessions, whether partial or whole days, for time reasonably and necessarily taken off work and away from your work premises solely as a result of your efforts to amend or rectify records as to your true name or identity as a result of a Stolen Identity Event. Actual lost wages includes remuneration for vacation days, discretionary days, floating holidays, and paid personal days. Lost wage reimbursement excludes business interruption or future earning of a self-employed professional. Computation of lost wages for self-employed professionals must be supported by and will be based on prior year tax returns. Coverage is limited to wages lost within twelve (12) months after your discovery of a Stolen Identity Event.
Legal defense fees and expenses
Costs for reasonable fees for an attorney appointed by us and related court fees, incurred by you with our consent, for:
- Any legal action brought against you by a creditor or collection agency or entity acting on behalf of a creditor for non-payment of goods or services or default on a loan as a result of a Stolen Identity Event; and
- Removing any civil judgment wrongfully entered against you as a result of the Stolen Identity Event.
- Criminal defense for charges brought against you as a result of a Stolen Identity Event. However, we will only pay for this after it has been established by acquittal or dropping of charges because you were not in fact the perpetrator.
- Challenging the accuracy or completeness of any information in your medical history as a result of a medical identity theft. It is further agreed that solely with respect to subparagraph (d) you, with our express prior written consent, may select such attorney.
- Challenging the accuracy or completeness of any information in your tax history as a result of a stolen identity event. It is further agreed that solely with respect to subparagraph (d) you, with our express prior written consent, may select such attorney.
A Stolen Identity Event means the fraudulent use of your name, address, Social Security number, bank or credit card account number or other personally identifying information or other method of identifying you. This includes, but is not limited to, the fraudulent use of your personal identity to establish credit accounts, secure loans, enter into contracts or commit crimes. Stolen identity event shall include Medical identity theft. Medical Identity Theft means the theft of the insured´s personal or health insurance information to obtain medical treatment, pharmaceutical services or medical insurance coverage. Medical identity theft also means the theft of the insured´s personal or health insurance information to submit false claims for medical services or goods. A Stolen Identity Event does not include the theft or unauthorized or illegal use of y our business name, d/b/a or any other method of identifying your business activity.
Investigative Agency or Private Investigator Costs
Costs associated with the use of any investigative agency or private investigator engaged to amend or rectify records as to your true name or identity as a result of a Stolen Identity Event. We reserve the right to select such investigative agency or private investigator; however, with our express prior written consent, you may select such investigative agency or private investigator.
We shall pay you for the following in the event of an Unauthorized Electronic Fund Transfer:
The principal amount, exclusive of interest, incurred by you and caused by an Unauthorized Electronic Fund Transfer first occurring during the policy period. However, such principal amount shall not include any amount for which you did not seek reimbursement from the financial institution which issued the access device and holds the account from which funds were stolen, and for which you have not received reimbursement from any other source.
An Unauthorized Electronic Fund Transfer (UEFT) is an electronic fund transfer from your Account initiated by a person other than you without the actual authority to initiate such transfer and from which you receive no benefit. An Unauthorized Electronic Fund Transfer (UEFT) does not include an electronic fund transfer initiated: 1) by a person who was furnished the access device to your account by you, unless you have notified the financial institution that transfers by such person are no longer authorized; 2) with fraudulent intent by you or any person acting in concert with you; 3) by the financial institution of its employee; or 4) from any business or commercial account.
Account means a cash, credit card, demand deposit (checking), savings or money market account of yours held directly or indirectly by a financial institution and established primarily for personal, family or household purposes.
Subject to the Master Policy's terms, conditions and exclusions, the Master Policy provides benefits to you only if: (1) you report a Stolen Identity Event or an Unauthorized Electronic Fund Transfer to the Master Policyholder at the contact number stated above as soon as you become aware of a Stolen Identity Event or a Unauthorized Electronic Fund Transfer, but in no event later than ninety (90) days after the Stolen Identity Event or Unauthorized Electronic Fund Transfer is discovered; and (2) you follow the instructions given to you by the Fraud Resolution Unit. These instructions will include notifying major credit bureaus, the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Hotline and appropriate law enforcement authorities. You will also be provided with a claim form and instructed how to file for benefits under the policy if the Stolen Identity Event or Unauthorized Electronic Fund Transfer results in losses covered under the policy.
You will only be covered for a Stolen Identity Event if a Stolen Identity Event is first discovered while you are a member of the Master Policyholder's insured program and is reported to us within ninety (90) days of such discovery.
You will only be covered for an Unauthorized Electronic Fund Transfer if an Unauthorized Electronic Fund Transfer first occurs while you are a member of the Master Policyholder's insured program and is reported to us within ninety (90) days of such discovery.
You will not be covered if the Stolen Identity Event or Unauthorized Electronic Fund Transfer first occurs after termination of the master policy or termination of your membership in the Master Policyholder's program.
LIMITS OF INSURANCE
The most we shall pay you cannot exceed the Aggregate Limit of Insurance above. Legal fees and private investigator fees are subject to prior approval. All Legal Costs shall be part of and subject to the Aggregate Limit of Insurance. LEGAL COSTS ARE PART OF, AND NOT IN ADDITION TO, THE LIMIT OF INSURANCE.
The Lost Wages, Travel Expense, and Elder Care/Spousal Care/Child Care Limits of Insurance shown above are sublimits of the Aggregate Limit of Insurance and the most we shall pay you for lost wages, travel expense, and elder care/spousal care/child care.
We shall be excess over any other insurance, including, without limitation, homeowner´s or renter´s insurance. If you have other insurance that applies to a loss under this policy, the other insurance shall pay first. This policy applies to the amount of loss that is in excess of the Limit of Insurance of your other insurance and the total of all your deductibles and self-insured amounts under all such other insurance. In no event shall we pay more than our Limits of Insurance as shown above.
If you are enrolled in more than one Membership Program insured by us, or any of our affiliates, we will reimburse you under each membership program:
- subject to the applicable deductibles and Limits of Insurance of each insured Membership Program
- but in no event shall the total amount reimbursed to you under all Membership Programs exceed the actual amount of loss.
- If you've been a victim of identity theft, you might be entitled to free credit monitoring.
- Check your financial statements regularly, keeping an eye out for any unfamiliar activity. If you find something irregular, report it ASAP.
- If you're especially concerned about identity theft, consider freezing your credit report, which prevents hard inquiries without your permission.
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Identity theft occurs when someone obtains your personal information, such as your credit card data or Social Security number, to commit fraud or other crimes. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 9 million Americans suffer identity theft annually. It sounds like a big number, but it isn’t.
For one, the hysteria has been stoked by much-publicized data breaches. In reality, identity theft only touches a sliver of the U.S. population each year (about 3%). One-quarter of those cases are credit-card fraud and not full-blown identity theft, according to FTC figures. The credit-card fraud occurs when a thief uses your credit card to make purchases. More serious is when someone uses your information to open accounts or take loans in your name. That’s when you’ll have to fight to get your credit restored and your name cleared, an arduous process that can take months or years to complete.
In response to concerns over identity theft, numerous companies and financial institutions have stepped in with products that monitor your credit, reimburse you for lost wages or funds and guard your identity. Some employers also now offer ID theft insurance to help you reduce the amount of time and money spent resolving the crime, so check with your company’s benefits specialist about your eligibility.
Do You Need Identity Theft Protection? Before examining the services available, try these common-sense, no-cost measures to protect against identity theft and fraud:
Guard your information online. These days, many of us do most of our shopping and banking on the web. With all those account numbers and passwords floating around, it’s easy for someone to nab your information and go on a spree.
• Clear your logins and passwords. This is especially important if you’ve been working on a public computer. Change logins and passwords monthly.
• Pay for online purchases with your credit card, which has better guarantees under federal law than your online payment services or your debit card.
• Be alert for phishing, a trick in which spam or pop-ups mimic legitimate banks or businesses to obtain your personal information, which they use to access your accounts. Always verify that you’re on a familiar Web site with security controls before entering personal data.
Monitor your bank and credit card statements. Check your accounts regularly so you know when something’s awry. Purchases you didn’t make should be obvious—like a gas fill-up halfway across the country.
Verify your mailing address with the post office and financial institutions. Identity bandits may fill out change of address forms so that delinquent credit notices remain off your paper billing radar.
Monitor your credit report. By law, you’re entitled to a free report every year from each of the three bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Request one every four months, changing bureaus each time. You can order the report directly through each agency, or at annualcreditreport.com. Use this URL—there are hordes of knockoff sites that will try to charge you for your report and other needless services. Scan it for abnormal activity, such as accounts or credit cards you didn’t open. (And don’t fall prey to faux free credit report advertisements.)
Shred sensitive documents. Buy a shredder and regularly shred outdated bank statements, credit card applications, bills, and anything with your personal information before tossing it into the trash or recycling. Junk mail often includes some of your personal details.
Does it make sense to pay for ID theft protection if you’ve taken all these precautions? It depends on your spending habits and overall level of caution. You might want to invest in an identity theft protection service if:
• You do lots of online banking or shopping. • You don’t have time to monitor your information on your own. • The thought of investing time and money into recovering from an identity theft sickens you.
Picking the Right Service Before you spring for identity theft protection, which, at a minimum, is likely to set you back at least $150 a year, consider the no-cost measures you can take to protect yourself. Remember, despite the hype, the odds of having your identity swiped are actually quite low. And no identity theft protection is bulletproof, so consider these factors before you buy.
First, decide whether you’d like to purchase the services of a dedicated identity theft protection firm or one of the products offered by your bank or insurer. Many banks now offer customers daily credit checks that alert them to fishy activity in their accounts. Some will also provide insurance to repay lost wages or legal fees incurred as a result of identity theft or fraud. Other plans assign you a caseworker to help restore your credit. You can also try to bundle identity theft insurance with your home or auto coverage. Be wary of this kind of insurance, however — these policies can be riddled with exclusions that may prevent you from ever collecting in the event of theft.
Then there are the specialty companies—LifeLock and TrustedID are two of the most prominent—that market themselves as identity theft protection experts. These companies offer a mix of preventive and reactive tools to maintain your identity and credit, the most common being fraud alerts and credit freezes.
Fraud alerts. Some identity-theft protectors will immediately place fraud alerts on your files with the three main credit bureaus, whether you’ve been victimized or not. In essence, it forces any bank or credit agency to balk before approving credit requests in your name. It’s not foolproof, though. The law only requires the creditor to take reasonable precautions before extending credit. This may only be a speed bump for a practiced thief, so don’t consider it a guarantee that your identity won’t be swiped.
Credit freezes. Freezes are far more effective than alerts. Icing your files prevents any company from accessing your credit unless you already do business with them, effectively sealing your records against any new creditor. Freezes can be a pain if you’re seeking a mortgage or student loan—or any form of credit. You’ll have to contact the bureaus to unfreeze your records, which can take up to three days. Plus, the credit bureaus normally charge a small fee whenever you freeze and unfreeze your files. Credit freeze rules vary by state.
Alerts and freezes are two measures you can take yourself, so consider whether you want to pay a company to do it for you.
If you’ve detected fraudulent activity, notify the financial institution where the fraudulent activity occurred first so they can freeze your account. Depending on the situation, you’ll need to file a complaint with the FTC and your local police department, as well as investigate all of your other accounts. And keep a vigilant eye on that credit report.