Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Kara Brandeisky
October 3, 2014

Your private information may have been stolen… again: JPMorgan Chase disclosed on Thursday that hackers accessed 76 million accounts during a cyberattack this summer. JPMorgan Chase says hackers stole only names, addresses, phone numbers and emails, and not passwords or Social Security numbers. If that’s the case, it won’t be easy for crooks to steal your identity or your money.

But if you’re worried that one of the recent data breaches at Target, Home Depot, or P.F. Chang’s could make you vulnerable — or are just fed up with hearing about a new data theft every other week and want some peace of mind — you may be yearning for a foolproof solution. The simplest thing to do: Put a freeze on your credit.

Here’s how it works. Whenever anyone applies for credit, the would-be lender pulls their credit report from one of the three bureaus, Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. If you institute a security freeze at each of the three credit bureaus, nobody will be able to access your credit report, so identity thieves won’t be able to open any new accounts in your name — period.

There are some downsides to this option. First, there’s the cost. The price of a security freeze varies by state — you can check yours here — but it’s typically $5 to $10 per credit agency. (It’s often free for people who have already been victims of identity theft.)

More of a problem is that whenever you want to allow someone to check your credit, you’ll need to pay a fee to lift the freeze. And that may happen more often than you expect because your credit report gets pulled not just for credit applications but often when you sign up for a cell phone contract or apply for a new apartment or job as well. The credit agencies will give you a password to lift the freeze and charge up to $12 each time you do it — so this option can get pricey.

Finally, if you’re afraid that an identity thief may already have used stolen information to open accounts in your name, a credit freeze won’t help. To find out if that’s the case, you’ll have to check your credit report, which you can do for free three times a year at annualcreditreport.com. If you suspect fraud, you’ll want to notify your financial institutions, change your passwords, watch your statements, and file a police report.

Ready to act? You can place a credit freeze online, right now:

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