Before anyone heeds Maryland State Sen. Susan C. Lee's advice to immediately freeze their credit (“Freeze your credit before you get burned,” Oct. 7), consumers should consider the myriad tools available to them to fight identity theft. A credit freeze is not for everyone. The Federal Trade Commission has said that “credit freezes are a powerful tool, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all thing. If consumers are about to apply for new credit — for example, a mortgage, car loan, or student loan — they should consider the cost and potential hassle of unfreezing and refreezing each time. But for people who won’t need new credit anytime soon, a credit freeze may be a good choice.”
Before freezing their files, every Marylander should check their credit report by going to AnnualCreditReport.com. That will show if there are any errors or unusual activity. Free fraud alerts are a good option because they will tell lenders that they have to take extra steps to verify your identity if you apply for credit. A credit monitoring service is helpful because it alerts you to significant changes in your credit report without freezing you out of the credit system.
A credit lock is also available and has the same effect as a freeze when it comes to stopping a credit application but is generally a self-service option consumers can control online anytime, anywhere. It's important that consumers understand all of these options and choose the best one for their unique situation, especially if they are planning to buy a home or car, take out college loans, open a new credit card, rent an apartment or finance a cell phone. While freezes protect consumers from one kind of fraud, they may delay transactions, purchases or job offers.
Freezes are last lines of defense, and there are better options for most people. Consumers should consider fraud alerts and credit monitoring services, but consider all options carefully, as the FTC advises.
Eric J. Ellman, Washington
The writer is senior vice president of public policy and legal affairs for the Consumer Data Industry Association
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