The Pinellas County Justice and Consumer Services Department is informing consumers about a new tool to help combat identity theft. As of July 1, Florida residents have greater control over who accesses their credit by placing a security freeze on their credit files. With a security freeze, credit bureaus are unable to disclose your credit score, credit history or any other credit information without your permission. Your credit file would be off limits to potential lenders, insurers and even future employers.
To freeze your credit files, you must contact each of the three major credit bureaus/credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) in writing by certified mail. Each of the three credit bureaus has their own policies and procedures for implementing a security freeze; however, Florida law places standards on their costs and requirements.
Each credit bureau may charge a fee of up to $10 to place, temporarily lift or remove a security freeze. The fees may be waived if you meet certain requirements. If you are age 65 or older, there's no charge to place or remove a security freeze. Identity theft victims who have filed a report with a law enforcement agency may also have their fees waived.
In order to obtain any new credit, consumers with a freeze must have it lifted (either temporarily or permanently) to grant creditors access to their credit file - also known as thawing. While this may be a hindrance to some by cutting off instant credit checks, it will provide a defense against identity theft and the potential destruction an identity thief can cause to your credit profile. Your security freeze will remain in place until you request the freeze to be removed.
For information on consumer issues, call the Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services at (727) 464-6200.
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