Did you know you can freeze your credit for free? Credit freezes are one of the most effective ways for consumers to protect themselves against identity theft, even if you haven’t been victimized.
As of Sept. 21, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian all have a webpage informing consumers how to freeze their credit. The service is free. To protect your information, you must freeze your credit with ALL three bureaus. For more information check out the FTC website at www.IdentityTheft.gov. This is not a quick process. It will take time to figure out but could well be worth it.
A credit freeze allows you to seal your credit reports and use a personal identification number that only you know and can use to temporarily “thaw” your credit when legitimate applications need to be processed. If you are actively filling out credit applications and seeking credit, freezing your account right now might not be a good option.
But for those who don’t intend to open any new credit lines or need additional credit, a freeze adds a layer of security that won’t allow thieves to establish new credit in your name even if they’re able to obtain your personal information. In Idaho, the freeze will remain on your account permanently until you remove it.
Also, freezing your credit files has no impact on your existing lines of credit so you can continue to use your credit cards even if your credit is frozen. Passage of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act means that the credit-reporting bureaus must allow consumers to freeze their credit.
You might also want to include the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange (NCTUE) to the list of credit freezes. This member-owned database is where phone, utility and cable companies exchange source-anonymous information on service requests, payment history, and historical account status.
DON’T HIT *72: This is the call forwarding feature on most phones. The target will get a call from someone pretending to be in an urgent situation with a desperate need to contact someone else. The scammer might claim to have been arrested for a minor traffic infraction and needs to call a relative to come pick up his children from school. Supposedly, the scammer has “accidentally” dialed the wrong number and claims he cannot place another call so he pleads with the victim to help him complete the call by forwarding him to the correct phone number using the *72 feature.
What happens next is the victim has unwittingly forwarded all subsequent calls to another number. This scheme allows the scammer to use his victim’s phone as a relay for long-distance calls, without the victim’s knowledge — that is, until the victim gets an unusually large phone bill or wonders why their phone calls have stopped.
The scammer instructs his incoming callers to call the victim’s number collect and then the scammer (because the calls are being forwarded to him) approves the charges because he won’t be the one paying the bill.
Most phone companies acknowledge this scam but have been reluctant to reverse charges because they reason the victim forwarded the call; therefore, he accepted responsibility for the charges. This is also an ingenious way to override a cell phone’s inability to receive collect calls.
The best way to avoid falling victim to this scam is never activate your call forwarding feature when someone you don’t know asks you to. Only forward your calls when you want them to go somewhere else.
MICROSOFT SCAM TWIST: Some readers have reported that they have recently received calls that they made a payment a few months ago and are now entitled to a refund because Microsoft is closing down. Of course the caller needs your credit card number so they can refund your balance.
Don’t fall for it. Microsoft is not closing down.
And in case that one didn’t work, here’s a new twist on the Microsoft scam. Scammers are calling consumers to tell them that their operating system is about to expire so they need to renew now before their computer shuts down permanently. News flash: Your operating system does not expire so there is no need to renew it. It’s another scam.
Remember, if you get a call from a number you don’t recognize, don’t answer it.
ALSO REMEMBER: I’m on your side.
If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email or give me a call. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. You can either email me at email@example.com or call me at 208-274-4458. Please include your name and a phone number or email. I’m available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. I’m a copywriter and consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.