An I've Been Mugged reader, Kalyan, sent to me an e-mail message last week with the following question:
"If one gets his credit reports frozen at all three agencies (for $30), will credit monitoring work ? Will the monitoring service be able to get the changes in the reports? Is it some sort of an oxymoron to say "frozen credit report change monitoring", since there should be no changes to monitor!?"
This is a god question. Before answering it, I want to emphasize for readers that the cost of a Security Freeze varies by state. In Massachusetts, the cost is $5.00 for a consumer to lock down or "freeze" each credit report at the three national credit agencies. Consumers in only a handful of states can lock down their C.L.U.E. insurance reports at ChoicePoint's ChoiceTrust Web site. Choicepoint has ignored several inquiries about why it does not offer a Security Freeze for its reports nationwide.
Now, to answer Kalyan's question.
I have Security Freezes in place on my 3 credit reports, plus credit monitoring from Discover and from Kroll. My logic for having both Security Freezes and credit monitoring:
- The Security Freezes are needed since IBM exposed my personal data through its data breach. My personal data could be nowhere or anywhere in the world. The Security Freeze gives me the most protection possible.
- A Freeze is also needed because many credit monitoring services (like Discover's offering) don't monitor credit files from all three national credit bureaus. You would think that they would, but many don't
- The risk of identity fraud doesn't just magically end after 1 or 2 years, just because most companies provide free credit monitoring services to data-breach victims for that period after a data breach. For me, I feel comfortable assuming the worst... since my data is out there, it could be abused at any time. ID-theft criminals are smart and persistent. While some of IBM's "lost" data tapes were encrypted, it may take time for the thieves to break the encryption.
- The free credit monitoring IBM arranged through Kroll gives me very strong credit resolution protection, and fairly strong credit monitoring but doesn't provide access to the full text of my credit reports at the three credit bureaus. I'm inclined to keep Kroll since they seem to be the best at resolution services (something Discover's offering seems weak at)
- Similarly, my Discover credit monitoring service provides features which Kroll's service doesn't, like access to the complete text of my credit reports. I will cancel my credit monitoring service with Discover when I find a suitable replacement.
- Even with a Security Freeze in place, changes can occur with a consumer's credit reports. By law, many government agencies retain the right to access consumers' credit reports (e.g., law enforcement, courts, child support orders, etc.). I know this having read the text of the Massachusetts ID-theft law. (ID-theft laws vary by state.) Since identity thieves are smart and may manage to trick a valid government agency (e.g., dept of motor vehicles) to make a fraudulent change to my credit reports, I want to know about it. This seems wise also because the Security Freeze tool has key limitations or gaps, like when identity criminals use stolen identity data during a crime, or when criminals attempt medical identity fraud.
If my approach seems like a patchwork quilt of a solution, it is. I'd rather get everything from one service, but I haven't found one service (yet) that provides everything I'm looking for. Getting a credit monitoring services directly from one of the credit bureaus (e.g., Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) may seem like a good idea, their services and Web sites are poorly designed, difficult to use, and the bureaus offshore outsource their customer support operations, which some consumers have had difficulty with.
What is your logic regarding Security Freezes and credit monitoring? Whether you use both, one, or neither I'd love to hear you decision logic.