Protect Your Children's Credit with a Freeze! (Updated)
As of November 1st, consumers in all 50 states can now take advantage of a service called a "credit freeze". A freeze means that no new credit (no credit cards, no car loans, no mortgage refinancing) can be done in your name while the freeze is in effect. For someone who has experienced the pain of identity theft, where a criminal gets to go shopping or borrowing using your good credit to finance the spree, this is really, really good news. Previously, the freeze service was available from the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) in just 39 states. The federal government now requires the remaining 11 states' residents to also be served, even if their local government hadn't already required it.
So why am I putting the freeze on for my kids? It's not that they all went out and got MasterCards while I wasn't looking. It's to protect their credit score until the time they will actually need it. We all have to have valid social security numbers for each of our children, in order to claim them as dependents on our income taxes. We then put those numbers on forms for the pediatrician's office, the local schools, even for summer camp. When my family took a tour of the White House, we had to provide them with our children's social security numbers or we couldn't come in. That little series of digits can be incredibly valuable in the hands of an identity thief, as more people are beginning to learn. A child's credit is rarely accessed until the time comes to apply for college loans. Can you imagine the potential damage of 18 years of unsupervised credit access? Here's a story of a young man whose credit was used to buy a $40,000 boat!
I just went through the effort to register my three children for a credit freeze. Here are the steps:
1. Locate the information for your individual state's policy on the security or credit freeze. The cost will vary by state. In California, we need to pay $10 per credit bureau, per child. That's $30 each, or in our case, $90. Here's the link to California's information.
2. Next, write an instruction letter for each agency and each child. You will need to provide name, address (and previous addresses), social security number, and date of birth. You are supposed to include proof of residency like your gas bill but I included a copy of my driver's license for each child. I hope this will suffice.
3. Provide payment information or include a check.
4. Take the letter to your local post office because two of the agencies require it to be sent certified mail. I sent all three certified mail.
Now I'm waiting for the confirmation letter that is to be sent by each agency. It should take no more than 5 business days after they receive the letter. They will provide me a confirmation code that is to be used when we are ready to "unfreeze" their credit.
Of course, I will still order their credit reports annually to ensure nothing slipped our notice before instituting the freeze. I'll let you know how this goes! You can't do it online (they say they don't keep credit reports on minors but in some places they define their age minimum to "under 18" while other areas say "under 13"). You have to send a letter to request the report, which I'm doing today. Write to me if you are going to set up a freeze for your children too. Send me your comments at email@example.com. January 29, 2008 Update:
I submitted my freeze requests to all three agencies and received 9 identical "rejections." The short story version is that since none of my children have been victims of id theft, there is no record of them in the "system". Therefore no record requiring a freeze exists. The TransUnion letter (the most helpful of the three) said they "were unable to locate the above-referenced individual's credit report. Therefore, we are unable to add a protective statement to the credit report."
They suggest I send another request in writing and include, "a certified and verifiable birth certificate and a copy of the minor's Social Security card. Upon receiving this information, we will take the necessary steps to protect this individual's identity." Next, the crazy form returned to me from Experian had a series of boxes and instructions to match. Sort of an "if>then" statement from my old Boston University computer programming class. In this case, my "IF" statement was "If you want us to search our database to see if we have information on your minor child". The "THEN" statement was this gobbledygook. Please send us:
- a written request for the report;
- a letter with all of the information completed;
- a copy of a government-issued identification card such as a driver's license, State ID card, military ID card, etc;
- proof of your address (such as a copy of a utility bill, bank or insurance statement, etc that shows your name at your current mailing address;
- a copy of your child's birth certificate
- a copy of your child's Social Security card
The letter from Equifax was fairly useless. They just told me to send a copy of my child's birth certificate and a copy of their Social Security card or a document from the Social Security Administration that shows the child's Social Security number. They don't explain what, if anything, sending these valuable pieces of information would gain me.
I have to admit, at this point I'm relieved there isn't any record of my three children. And I'm not really interested in going to downtown Los Angeles to the Recorder's office to get official copies (at $17 apiece) of my children's birth certificates. The online option to get a birth certificate requires adding in a notarized affadavit that I'm the parent.) Only TransUnion specified a "certified copy" so perhaps I could just mail in a xerox of the ones we have in the fire-safe box at home to the other two agencies. Something tells me that's not gonna fly. Naturally, there isn't a phone number on any of the letters to just ask someone.
I'd love to hear from anyone who has gone through all these steps to at least put one freeze into place on a child. I really wish Congress would step matters up to make this a workable system for a caring parent.Message Edited by marianmerritt on 05-20-2008 09:59 AMMessage Edited by marianmerritt on 05-20-2008 10:00 AM