Thanks to a new federal law, free credit freezes and year-long fraud alerts are here, starting September 21st. What does that mean for your customers and employees?
Free credit freezes
Security freezes, also known as credit freezes, restrict access to a consumer’s credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in the consumer’s name. Starting September 21st, consumers can freeze and unfreeze their credit file for free. They also can get free freezes for their children.
How will freezes work? Consumers will need to contact all three nationwide credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If consumers ask for a freeze online or by phone, the credit reporting agency must have the freeze in place within one business day. And when consumers want to lift the freeze, the credit reporting agencies have to make that happen within one hour. (If consumers make the request by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days.)
Freezes aren’t the same as locks. They work in a similar way, but locks may have monthly fees.
What does the new law mean for your business? Suppose consumers concerned about identity theft decide to freeze their credit. Fast forward a few months and their furnace is on the fritz or they’re shopping for a new refrigerator. To finance a purchase, they’ll need to lift the freeze on their credit. Under the old system, depending on the circumstances, that could take several days. As of September 21st, that has to happen within an hour. The good news for consumers and businesses: a quicker, easier system that puts consumers at the controls.
A fraud alert tells businesses they should check with the consumer before opening a new account in his or her name. It used to be that fraud alerts were in place for only 90 days and the onus was on the consumer to extend it. But starting September 21st, when consumers place a fraud alert on their credit file, it will last a full year. Fraud alerts will still be free and identity theft victims can still get an extended fraud alert for seven years.
To place a fraud alert on their credit file, consumers can visit any one of the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. The one the consumer contacts must notify the other two.
Active duty alerts
Moves and deployments are standard operating procedure for servicemembers and their families, but changes of address can present challenges when it comes to protecting their identity. That’s why the new law leaves in place the existing system for members of the military to put an active duty alert on their credit file. It works like a fraud alert and is in place for one year, renewable for the time the servicemember is deployed. The active duty alert provides an added benefit: The credit reporting agencies will remove the person’s name from their marketing lists for prescreened credit card offers for two years.
The process for placing an active duty alert on a credit file is the same as a fraud alert. Members of the military can visit any one of the three credit reporting agencies, who will then notify the other two.
Steps your business can take
- Set up a process for when a consumer with a credit freeze wants to finance a purchase. Especially as consumers are getting used to the new system, there are steps your business can take to keep things running smoothly. Consumers looking to buy something on credit may have forgotten about the credit freeze they put in place months earlier. Educate your staff about providing customers with accurate information. When consumers are empowered with the facts about how to freeze, unfreeze, and refreeze their credit, they’re in a better position to protect themselves from identity theft and manage their credit wisely.
- Report possible violations of the law. If you think a credit reporting agency is not placing or lifting a credit freeze or fraud alert properly, report it to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection at www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint or call the BCFP at 855-411-2372.
- Enlist your HR pros to help your staff understand the new law. Three FTC publications – Place a Fraud Alert, Extended Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes, and Credit Freeze FAQs – offer updated advice about consumers’ rights under the new law. Also, if one of your employees has been victimized by identity theft, he or she may turn to your personnel people for assistance with IRS issues, health insurance headaches, and credit complications. Or maybe they’ve been told their personal data could be at risk due to a breach. Make sure your HR experts are aware of the resources available at identitytheft.gov, the FTC’s one-stop site to help people report and recover from identity theft.