Bal­ance free­dom, credit ac­cess

USA TODAY International Edition - - OPINION - Fran­cis Creighton Fran­cis Creighton is pres­i­dent and CEO of the Con­sumer Data In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion.

The free­dom to ac­cess credit quickly and se­curely is some­thing Amer­i­can con­sumers have en­joyed for decades. But dra­matic in­creases in crim­i­nal hacks have chal­lenged the way we all treat our per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. Timely ac­cess to credit is es­sen­tial to how we man­age our fi­nances, and re­strict­ing that free­dom might not be the best so­lu­tion for most con­sumers.

Con­sumers have a se­ries of tools avail­able to fight iden­tity theft. First, ev­ery Amer­i­can should check their credit re­port at An­nu­alCred­itRe­port.com. That will show whether there are any er­rors or un­usual ac­tiv­ity re­quir­ing attention. Sim­i­larly, a credit mon­i­tor­ing ser­vice alerts you to sig­nif­i­cant changes in your credit re­port. Free fraud alerts are an­other op­tion. Fraud alerts tell lenders that they have to take ex­tra steps to ver­ify your iden­tity if you ap­ply for credit.

Peo­ple who have been vic­tims of iden­tity theft — those who have ac­tu­ally had false ac­counts opened in their name — should con­sider credit freezes. These are free for vic­tims and other vul­ner­a­ble con­sumers such as se­niors. For oth­ers, there may be a nom­i­nal charge, un­der state laws.

A credit lock is also avail­able and is sim­i­lar to a freeze when it comes to stop­ping a credit ap­pli­ca­tion, but it is gen­er­ally a self-ser­vice op­tion that con­sumers can con­trol on­line any­time, any­where.

It’s im­por­tant that con­sumers un­der­stand all of these op­tions and choose the best one for their unique sit­u­a­tion, es­pe­cially if they are plan­ning to buy a home or car, take out col­lege loans, open a credit card, rent an apart­ment, or fi­nance a cell­phone.

Credit freezes may be right for some peo­ple, but not right for every­one. While freezes pro­tect con­sumers from one kind of fraud, freezes may de­lay trans­ac­tions, pur­chases or job of­fers. Freezes are last lines of de­fense, and there are bet­ter op­tions for most peo­ple — pri­mar­ily fraud alerts.

While freez­ing credit may be an op­tion for some, most Amer­i­cans will find that fraud alerts, as well as some other op­tions, pro­vide the right bal­ance of se­cu­rity and free­dom to ac­cess credit.

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