Following up on my post from two weeks ago, I went and did it: I obtained a copy of my credit report and placed a security freeze on my reports with the three major agencies. Here are my impressions of how it went.
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Free Credit Report

I’ve never actually requested my own credit report before, in spite of being bombarded by expert advice to do so. Until now.

To get your credit report, copy and past the following text into your browser’s address bar. Do not trust anyone who gives you a link to click on: those can be faked to send you to a dodgy website that will certainly prompt you for your Social Security Number …

https://annualcreditreport.com

My actual credit report is unremarkable. It’s just a summary of all the credit accounts I’ve had for about the past 15-20 years: credit cards, mortgages, car loans, and the like, including that short-lived Brooks Brothers credit card I signed up for because the salesman told me I could save 15% and then I cancelled the next month and forgot about. And my payment history for each account. Every month. How far back they go varies by agency.

Your credit score is not included in the free credit reports from each agency. You can pay to see it, if you want.

Credit Freeze

A credit freeze is stronger than a fraud alert: it prevents the credit agencies from releasing your credit report to anyone. This stops most forms of identity “theft” (more accurately called “identity fraud”). It won’t prevent some specific kinds of fraud like medical fraud (someone accruing medical bills in your name) or payday loans.

Freezing my report with the three agencies was easy, with one interesting exception. Here’s how it broke down:

  • Equifax (https://www.equifax.com): A credit freeze with Equifax is free at the time of this writing, and rightly so.
  • TransUnion (https://www.transunion.com/): TransUnion wants you to create an account with them in order to freeze your credit, which is questionable. It’s one more password to forget — or for a stranger to “recover” for you! I recommend you use a password manager. If you do, making and keeping a strong password for TransUnion is routine. Then you get the dubious benefit of being able to freeze and unfreeze your credit any time! TransUnion charged me $5 for the freeze. How much they will charge you is determined by state law.
  • Experian (http://www.experian.com/): Here’s where it gets interesting, if you find blatant predatory marketing to be interesting. Experian will freeze your credit for you for $5 if you figure out where to look. To get there, you will have to grope your way past several giant screens trumpeting their identity protection services for “only” $24.99 a month. If I weren’t so disgusted by the price-gouging, I would scoff at their chutzpah. You get better protection by placing a freeze for a one-time fee of $5. For me, I was able to freeze my credit by going through the following menus: “Credit Report Assistance” -> “Security Freeze.”

And that’s about all there is to it. According to the experts I’ve read, credit monitoring services are not worth paying for. You get as much by requesting your free annual credit report, which takes about 20 minutes the first time. You get meaningful protection by placing a freeze on your accounts for a nominal fee. The only catch is you will have to contact each agency again to remove or temporarily suspend the freeze every time you want to switch cell phone plans, rent a new apartment, buy a car, or apply for a loan or credit card. My current feeling is that unfreezing your credit whenever you really need to use it is a lot less hassle than dealing with identity fraud when it happens. By now, nearly every American’s Social Security Number has been released by one of the major data breaches. That credit agencies and government regulators still pretend Social Security Numbers are secret is disingenuous, in my opinion.