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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Thursday, March 14, 2013

Credit freeze protects against ID theft

High-profile celebs, pols among those who had info breached at AnnualCreditReport.com



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Get more consumer advice on ClarkHoward.com and The Clark Howard Show.

By Clark Howard


Are you doing things that lay yourself wide open to an identity thief fouling up your life? I'll tell you how to protect yourself.

You may have heard that the credit reports and Social Security numbers of celebrities and politicians like Jay-Z, Beyonce, Attorney General Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton, among others, were breached at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Yes, that's the same website I routinely talk about. As you probably know, it was set up by the Big 3 credit reporting agencies to offer free annual credit reports, as required by federal law.

Yet this latest high-profile breach points back to something else I also talk about endlessly: Doing a credit freeze.

In the world of identity theft, somebody stealing your credit card number is the least harmful kind of breach. It just means you'll have the hassle of filing out some paperwork to dispute any bogus charges on your account.

On the other hand, having your debit card number compromised is a whole different story. In that case, money just disappears from your checking account and you may have to fight with your own bank to get it back. That's why I've encouraged people to tie a debit card in to a separate account that's only used for debit transactions so only that money is at risk.

When it comes to full-blown identity theft, only by doing a credit freeze can you protect yourself from the havoc a criminal may cause by opening new lines of credit in your name. A credit freeze costs anywhere from free to $10 per bureau depending on your state. And that makes it the cheapest insurance you can buy against identity theft.

See my guide for full details on how to put a credit freeze in place on yourself.

Finally, there's a quiz you can take online at IDSafety.net that will tell you how good you are at protecting your identity. This tool from Javelin Research assigns you a score, where 0 being perfect and 100 being the worst possible score.