I-Team: New security freeze law helps protect Mainers from identity theft
STATEWIDE (WGME) -- A change to state law is giving Maine parents a new way to protect themselves and their children from identity thieves to avoid a scary and unexpected financial hole.
We all know the importance of having secure passwords and shredding personal documents as ways to protect our personal information, but after hundreds of recent data breaches, experts say you should take it a step further and freeze your credit and your children's credit before becoming a victim of identity theft.
Children targeted by identity thieves
The I-Team tracked down a study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, which found 10% of children have someone else using their social security number. Some of the children were in foreclosure; others had their information used to purchase cars.
"It's a very lucrative thing for the identity thief because they have a free run of that child's credit until the child becomes old enough to apply for credit," said Jane Carpenter, founder of Maine Identity Services.
Carpenter explained Maine parents have a new tool to fight back because a change to Maine law, effective October 2015, means you can now put a security freeze on your child's credit.
Prevent financial fraud
It works by preventing a credit report from being shared with potential new creditors -- like credit card, cell phone, or mortgage companies.
"The new law is hugely important for residents of Maine," Carpenter said.
Carpenter recommended while you're freezing your child's credit to freeze yours, too, even if you have credit monitoring -- a service often offered for free after a data breach.
She said credit monitoring doesn't prevent fraud. It only helps detect it after it happens, giving some a false sense of security.
"That's the big difference and why we advocate signing up for security freeze rather than credit monitoring," she said.
The consumer group US PIRG and the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection also say a security freeze is the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family from financial fraud.
"It's as important as having a lock on your front door," said David Leach with the state's Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection.
Maine law requires FREE security freeze
With the new law, Maine also joins a small handful of other states making security freezes free. Before the law change, you had to pay $10 to each of the three credit bureaus. If a credit file doesn't exist for a child, a credit bureau can charge $10 to create one, then freeze it immediately.
When you sign up for the freeze, each credit bureau gives you a pin. You can then use that secret number to temporarily lift the freeze on your file if you need to give access to a creditor.
Contact each credit bureau to request security freeze
You'll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information to request the freeze, according to the Federal Trade Commission.A security freeze does not prevent you from getting access to your free annual credit report.