Is freezing your credit the way to safeguard your ID?
By Sandra Block, USA TODAY
Like many victims of identity theft, Steven Comeau learned of the crime when a collection agency called and asked why he wasn't paying his bills. But Comeau's case was anything but typical. Criminals had used his personal information to get a mortgage on a rental property in Brooklyn, N.Y.
That was in 2001, and Comeau, an information technology manager in South Brunswick, N.J. is still trying to convince people he's not a deadbeat landlord. In addition to calls from collection agents, he's gotten complaints from tenants. When Comeau and his wife, Magda, put an offer on a house in November, they discovered that his credit report listed a mortgage default. In April, he received a call from a lawyer for an investment bank that wanted to buy the building. "It never ends," he says.
Comeau believes the fallout from the scam would have been significantly reduced if he had been allowed to freeze his credit reports. A credit freeze bars lenders and others from reviewing an individual's credit history. Because few lenders will issue credit without first seeing a credit report, identity thieves can't open fraudulent
accounts using the name of someone who has frozen their credit reports.
With a credit freeze, "It would be easier for you to have control over your credit report," Comeau says. "Businesses have easier access to my credit report than I do."
At the beginning of the year, only four states — California, Vermont, Texas and Louisiana — had adopted credit-freeze laws. Since then, security breaches at ChoicePoint, LexisNexis and other businesses have prompted Colorado, Washington and Maine to adopt credit-freeze laws.
An additional 22 states are considering bills that would allow residents to bar lenders and other businesses from reviewing their credit reports, according to the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups.
Stealing funds, not identities
Adding to concerns about security: Friday, MasterCard announced that a computer hacker might have obtained information on up to 40 million credit card accounts. The breach, traced to a company that processes payments, involves 13.9 million MasterCard-branded cards, 22 million Visa USA accounts and an unspecified number of American Express and Discover customers. (Related. 40 million credit card holders may be at risk )
Officials say the compromised data don't include addresses or Social Security numbers, so they could be used only to steal funds, not identities. Still, the breach, largest to date, has already increased calls for more protections against identity theft.