Recently, I went to visit my grandmother. She is nearing ninety, sharp as a tack and financially savvy. She manages her own investments (and those of other family members), and has a keen grasp of marketplace trends. As our talk turned to my work, the recent Equifax breach came up.
Following the Equifax breach, our office has been recommending that folks consider placing a security freeze on their credit reports. A security, or “credit” freeze on your credit reports doesn’t affect your accounts, but it prevents any new accounts from being opened with your information. A security freeze is the most effective way to prevent unauthorized accounts. However, it’s not something most folks think about on a regular basis, even those who pay close attention to their finances and credit.
I asked my grandmother if she had placed a security freeze on her credit reports, and was unsurprised to learn that she had not. So, I offered to help my grandmother set those up, thinking that I would also gain some useful insight into the process I could bring back to my daily conversations with Vermonters as they struggle to respond to the breach.
We decided to try, first, to set up the freezes online. We logged on to the Consumer Assistance Program website, where I knew we could find links to the credit bureaus’ freeze pages in the Equifax information we have posted there. I launched a new tab for each, and we began entering the information they requested.
For all of these, some sensitive information is required. You will need to enter your Social Security Number. If you are not comfortable doing that online (which we totally understand), then you may wish to call the credit bureaus on the phone, or write to them through the regular mail. Once that information is entered, they will proceed to ask a number of questions to try and verify that you are, in fact, yourself.
A battery of questions about my grandmother’s past addresses, credit accounts and relatives came up. These were multiple choice questions, and sometimes confusing. We had to think carefully about each question, as a wrong answer would prevent us from completing the process. Some questions offered answer options that were all unrelated, and we had to be sure to select “None of these” where no answer was accurate.
After we got through these questions, we were able to submit the request. In three out of four, we successfully placed the freeze. One of the four (TransUnion), would not proceed, and required us to call an automated telephone line. We called the number, and completed the freeze process on the phone in just a few minutes.
Some folks may find that they cannot complete any of these online requests. You may have to send in what seems like a lot of supporting documents (like utility bills, mail, copies of ID, etc.). This is likely because there may be conflicting information, and the credit bureau wants to make sure you are who you say you are.
This process isn’t easy, but it is important. If you find you are having difficulty getting through the process, or have questions, give our office a call (800-649-2424). We may not be able to come for a visit, but we are happy to help!
-Jason, CAP Program Coordinator