Data breaches pose a potential risk to consumers in the form of identity theft, account takeover and fraud when personal and sensitive information is compromised. The following are tips to consider in reducing the impact of data breaches.
A security freeze protects against identity theft and the opening of fraudulent accounts with a consumer’s personal information. The security freeze will prohibit a consumer reporting agency from releasing any information in your credit report without your express authorization or approval. The security freeze is designed to prevent credit, loans, and services from being approved in your name without your consent. It will block an institution or lender from accessing a report, unless a pre-set PIN is provided to “thaw” the report; a credit report may be thawed at a particular bureau for a period of time or for a specific lender.
There are four credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, Innovis and TransUnion. Consumers must contact each of the bureaus to place a security freeze. Each of these bureaus will require a 6-digit number (PIN) to unfreeze or thaw your reports. You should secure this PIN somewhere you won’t lose it – if you lose your PIN, your credit may remain frozen.
In Montana there is no fee to freeze your credit if you are a victim of Identity Theft and submit a copy of a valid police report, investigative report or complaint filed with a law enforcement agency. If you are not a victim and are freezing your credit as a proactive precautionary measure, there is a fee of $3 each time you add or lift a freeze with each bureau. There is no fee to permanently remove your credit freeze.
Credit freezes are a powerful tool, but are not a one-size-fits-all solution. 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. For people who won’t need new credit anytime soon, a credit freeze may be a good choice. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
A less-impactful alternative to a credit freeze is a fraud alert. A fraud alert requires potential creditors to contact you and obtain your permission before opening new lines of credit in your name.
Consumers are allowed by law to file a fraud alert (also called a “security alert”) with each of the credit bureaus every 90 days. Fraud alerts automatically expire after 90 days, but can be renewed as often as you like. Identity theft victims who submit a police or other investigative report may be entitled to an extended fraud alert, which lasts seven years. Unless there is an extended fraud alert in place, set a reminder to renew the fraud alerts at each 90 days expiration.
Consumers are entitled by law to a free credit report from the three major credit reporting bureaus once a year. The only authorized, government-mandated free credit reporting service is annualcreditreport.com. Consumers should beware of other sites that try to sell a credit report or offer a “free” report if you agree to sign up for a subscription service.
Your free credit report will show all lines of credit and other obligations, along with other public data. Your free annual credit report does not include your credit score. Items to watch for are “new” or “re-opened” accounts and other suspicious activity. Make sure that you recognize the information on your credit report including your personally identifiable information, such as names, addresses, Social Security Number, accounts and loans. Then check that the other information on your credit report is accurate and complete. If you find information that you believe does not belong to you or is not correct, contact the business that issued the account or the credit reporting company that issued the report. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's website has additional information on what to look for when reviewing your credit report.
We recommend consumers check their free report annually. First Montana Bank customers enrolled in Centennial Checking also have the benefit of accessing their credit report and score annually, at no charge. This credit report is optional and is generated by the bank.
Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don't recognize. Consider using mobile banking apps or online banking to view your accounts instantly, in real-time. You may also consider establishing account activity alerts via email or text. Ensure that First Montana Bank has your current contact information and that you have established security questions and answers we can use to identify you that are distinct from the information stolen in recent breaches. Contact your local branch for assistance in securely updating your information and expect that we will take additional steps to positively identify you.
Each of the above tips can help prevent you from becoming a victim of Identity Theft or fraud. Identity theft impacts more than just your credit - it can affect your driving record, employment history, criminal record and more. Your professional licensed investigator will perform non-credit-related searches and will work diligently to resolve disputes with local and national agencies and institutions such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, Social Security Administration, law enforcement personnel and more to restore your name to pre-theft status.