Monday, May 17, 2021

Warm up to idea of freezing your credit

| November 26, 2020 1:00 AM

One of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is to freeze your credit. Freezing your credit is supposed to stop any new applications for credit from going through on your account without your knowledge. But does it really work?

Last year, I wrote about this topic and took my own advice and froze my credit with each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. It was a fairly simple process, didn’t take much time and didn’t cost me anything to sign up. But lately I started wondering if it really worked, so I put this to the test to see what would happen if I tried to open up a new credit card account at a local retailer.

I proceeded to provide the information necessary to open a new line of credit and was told in a matter of minutes that I was declined from being able to open up an account. I was bummed because I missed out on that great deal offered by opening up a new line of credit. The sales associate told me that the company would be mailing me a letter with the reason for my denial.

Within a week of trying to open that line of credit, I received the letter from the retailer that informed me the reason for my application being denied was because I had put a freeze on my account. So yes, I’m glad to report that freezing my credit worked as intended.

Be aware that even if you do put a freeze on your credit, you'll still want to monitor your reports and scores for major unexplained changes to your account. Also, freezing your credit has no impact on your existing lines of credit so you can continue to use them as you normally would.

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Things we are doing every day like using a debit card, using our smartphone or responding to a text or email could be exposing us to scammers.

With more consumers shopping online, scammers have taken to sending out emails and texts asking shoppers to check their order by clicking on links. I’ve had several readers complain that they've been contacted by “legitimate” companies asking them to check their order status when they haven’t ordered anything from the company that's trying to contact them.

Turns out it's scammers posing as the legitimate company to get the consumer to click on the link in order to steal their personal information.

But there are a few things we can do to help protect ourselves from fraud.

Be cautious of clicking on any links in emails or text messages, particularly from addresses you don’t recognize. Always log into your account separately to check for any new purchases or charges. You can also call the company directly.

Don’t throw away documents with personal information on them. Instead shred the documents before disposing of them.

Don’t use easy-to-hack passwords such as birthdates. Also, avoid using the same password for your banking information as you do for other sites like online shopping. Use strong and unique passwords that are hard to guess.

Check your credit report often. All Americans are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three major reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Some banks offer a service which allows you to check your report monthly. If your bank offers that service, sign up for it.

Be careful when using debit cards. They lack some of the protections credit cards offer.

Don’t use free public Wi-Fi networks to access accounts that have personal information such as your bank account or credit card accounts.

Check your bank accounts often to make sure you're keeping track of your charges and current balances. If you see a transaction that doesn’t look familiar, you can contact the bank to see if it’s a charge you authorized.

And finally, freeze your credit. Freezing your credit can be done with the three major credit reporting agencies listed above and essentially allows you to seal your credit reports so no new applications for credit can be initiated in your name without your knowledge.

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During Medicare’s open enrollment period, which ends Dec. 7, Medicare beneficiaries can choose the plans that are best suited for them. But how do you know what sellers are and are not allowed to do?

Be careful as there are many unscrupulous representatives who will try to enroll you in a Medicare plan that isn’t right for you. Also, before you consider switching plans, call your doctor’s office, if you plan to stick with them, to make sure they're on the new plan.

According to the Senior Medicare Patrol National Resource Center, there are limits on how Medicare plans can contact beneficiaries.

  1. They cannot call you if you don’t have a relationship with their company. 2. They cannot send you email if you haven’t agreed to this form of contact. 3. They cannot come to your home to sell Medicare products without invitation.
  2. They cannot leave flyers, door hangers or leaflets on your car or at your home. However, they can leave information at your residence if you don’t show up for a scheduled appointment.

When discussing plans with you, they're only allowed to discuss the plan that you're inquiring about and cannot talk about other insurance products like life insurance annuities.

You have until Dec. 7 to enroll so don’t be pressured into signing up early if you're undecided. Also, don’t be lulled into offers of gifts if you sign up early.

Once you’ve picked a plan, be sure to get all the details in writing before signing up for anything. Take your time and read all the information and verify all details. Understand if gaining a benefit in one area of care is costing you something in another area.

Finally, avoid scammers by knowing that a legitimate Medicare employee will always have your Medicare number on file so you will not have to provide it. If anyone calls you and asks for your Medicare number, Social Security number or bank account number, hang up on them.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. I’m a copywriter working with businesses on marketing strategy, a columnist, a veterans advocate and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.