Recently, a friend told me that a good Samaritan found and returned the wallet he had lost the previous day. The funny thing he said, was that the credit cards and money were still there but his driver’s license and Social Security card were missing. Not finding it at all humorous, I told him he was likely the target of identity theft. I advised him to file a police report and to contact the three credit rating agencies to place a freeze on his credit report. A credit freeze (also called a security freeze) places a restriction on who can access your credit report. Only your current creditors and government agencies can access your credit report while the freeze is in place. This makes it hard for identity thieves to open a credit card account or take out a loan in your name, because most credit card companies will check your credit report before issuing a new credit card. To set up a credit freeze, you need to contact all three of the credit reporting agencies; Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Each has a credit freeze website that is listed below, along with their telephone number. Equifax: 800-349-9960 https://www.freeze.equifax.com Experian: 888-397-3742 https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html TransUnion: 888-909-8872 https://www.transunion.com/freeze The best way to set up a credit freeze is to request it in writing. Check each of the websites above to see the information they require. Typically, requirements include a photocopy of your driver’s license, Social Security card and a utility bill from the address listed on your driver’s license. There is a charge to set up the freeze, ranging from $5 to $20 per reporting agency. All three credit rating agencies offer protection plans that include credit monitoring, but those plans are an additional monthly cost and are not that useful once you have the freeze in place. Once your credit freeze is established, each of the credit reporting companies will send you a confirmation letter that contains a pin number. Keep these pin numbers in a safe place because you will need to provide them when you wish to lift the freeze. Freezes can be lifted permanently or just temporarily via each of the credit company’s websites. There is typically a $5 charge to left the freeze, even if temporarily. You will need to lift your credit freeze at each of the credit reporting companies each time you apply for credit, such as applying for a new credit card or a loan. You will also need to lift them to get your free credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com, or if a potential employer wants to check your credit history. Identity theft can be costly and take years to clear up, so the time and fees involved in setting up a credit freeze is a small investment for some peace of mind. One last piece of advice – never, never, never carry your social security card in your wallet.