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Free credit freezes help with ID theft, but tax fraud prevention requires more

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Is there anyone anywhere who hasn't been a potential identity theft victim? Probably not.

Even if the crooks haven't stolen your identity — yet — there's still the possibility if some holder of any of your personal information has been hacked. And that happens every day.

The biggies get the most attention, like last year when cyber criminals got hold of Equifax credit bureau data, putting almost 146 million identities at risk.

And no one is safe. Just last week, the federal government again fell victim to hackers. The State Department, like the Office of Personnel Management and Internal Revenue Service before it, suffered a breach of one of its e-mail systems, exposing some of its employees' personal information.

So, no. Everybody will probably have to deal with identity theft at some point.

Cooling cyber theft attempts: One way to protect yourself when your personal info is compromised is to put a credit freeze on your credit bureau data.

And as of Sept. 21, you can do that for free.

A credit freeze restricts access to your credit file, preventing anyone from opening any new credit in your name.

Credit bureau phone contactsLenders typically won't issue loans or open credit accounts unless they can examine your credit report maintained by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit bureaus. That's impossible when you've frozen it.

It previously cost around $10 to freeze your credit. And if you decided to apply for a new loan yourself, you usually had to pay another sawbuck to unfreeze your data to let the lenders look.

But thanks to the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, there's no cost for freezing and unfreezing your credit.

Today's Saturday Shout Out goes to the Federal Trade Commission, which details how to freeze your credit.

The FTC article also discusses the other components of the new law, like establishing a free freeze for youngsters age 16 or younger, military personnel credit freeze considerations and fraud alerts.

You also can find out what to do if you think a credit reporting agency is not placing a credit freeze or fraud alert properly.

Tax fraud protection steps: While a credit freeze is a wise step when your personal and financial data has been compromised, credit experts note that freezes will not protect against some other forms of identity theft, such as a fraudulent tax return filed in your name.

If you're a victim of tax identity theft, the IRS has a couple of online guides to help: Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft and Identity Protection: Prevention, Detection and Victim Assistance.

You also can find more tips on preventing tax ID theft tips or recovering when a crook used your information to file a fraudulent refund at my posts Don't become a tax identity theft victim and Fear you might be a tax ID theft victim? Here's what to do.

Here's hoping that with free credit freezes and tax identity theft prevention steps, you'll never have to deal with a criminal pretending to be you.

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