Identity theft costs American consumers staggering amounts of money each year, and the totals continue to rise. According to the 2017 Identity Fraud Study from Javelin Strategy and Research, 15.4 million U.S. consumers were victims of identity theft in 2016 with a total of $16 billion in losses. That represents an increase of 2.3 million victims and $100 million in losses compared to 2015.
With identity theft rampant, and credit bureau Equifax admitting to a data breach that could affect 143 million consumers, it's more important than ever that you take steps to protect yourself. As Matt Schulz, Senior Industry Analyst for CreditCards.com points out, "If you have somebody who established a credit card in your name, ran up a bunch of charges and never paid the bills, and you have late payments that have racked up, it can really impact your credit." You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes using Credit Manager by MoneyTips.
Fortunately, a joint effort by credit bureaus TransUnion and Equifax have made managing your account protection easier than ever. The two bureaus recently launched Multi-Bureau Lock, a tool that allows consumers to lock both their Equifax and TransUnion credit reports easily with a mere click or swipe.
The Multi-Bureau Lock combines the individual locking tools from each agency and allows you to lock both files simultaneously by accessing either the TransUnion or Equifax platform. Customers may activate the Multi-Bureau Lock through the bureaus' existing products.
A credit lock is effectively a credit freeze – a hold placed on your credit file that stops creditors from accessing it. By locking your account, you can keep identity thieves from opening fraudulent accounts in your name. Potential creditors must be able to run a credit check on you in order to assess risk properly before opening an account. With a credit lock, creditors will be unwilling to extend credit to you – or someone pretending to be you. If you need to put in a legitimate request for credit, you must remove the hold on your credit file temporarily so your request can be processed.
With a standard credit freeze, you must contact each of the three bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) individually and request that a freeze be applied. (For now, you will still need to apply an individual credit freeze on Experian.) You will be issued a PIN for identity verification and must use that PIN to remove or reapply a credit freeze. There is typically a fee for each application and removal (generally between $5 and $20 per transaction).
The Multi-Bureau Lock allows online access through your account, where you have already provided proof of identity by logging in. Remove the lock just long enough for the request to be processed, and then reapply it with the convenience of a single click or swipe.
The lock services have fees, but they are monthly service charges instead of individual transaction charges. Equifax offers the Lock and Alert program separately for $4.95 per month, while TransUnion bundles their credit lock into their subscription credit monitoring service at $19.95 per month. Choose the one that best fits your needs, since either program will activate both locks.
In essence, the Multi-Bureau Lock allows you to trade off the hassles of individual credit freeze transactions for the simplicity of a monthly service that keeps your credit locked at all times unless and until you want to unlock it for your own credit applications.
The Multi-Bureau Lock is yet another advancement in proactive identity theft prevention – and, in the words of CreditCard.com's Schulz, "The best way to avoid being a victim of identity theft is to really be as proactive as you can." Every bit of protection you can implement makes it less likely that you will have to deal with the headaches of identity theft.
If you would like to monitor your credit to prevent identity theft and see your credit reports and scores, check out our credit monitoring service.