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In today’s technological age, data breaches are increasingly common. That means millions of people are at risk of having their information stolen. In fact, the Insurance Information Institute reported that 16.7 million people were victims of identity theft in 2017, a record high.
If your information is compromised, thieves can use your personal data to open up new credit accounts in your name. As they rack up debt and skip payments, your credit can be destroyed.
Placing a credit freeze on your account is one of the best ways to protect yourself from data breaches and identity theft. Below, find out how credit freezes work and how to submit your request.
What is a credit freeze?
Building good credit takes time and dedication, but a thief can ruin your history quickly. If you’re worried about identity theft or data breaches, placing a credit freeze on your credit report can be a smart way to protect your information. A credit freeze — sometimes called a security freeze — is a tool that restricts access to your credit report.
Creditors and lenders look at your credit report when determining whether or not to issue you credit in the form of a loan or credit card. With a credit freeze, they’re unable to view your credit report, making it difficult for would-be thieves to open up new accounts in your name.
Benefits of a credit freeze
Placing a credit freeze on your account provides significant benefits.
- It can give you peace of mind: Placing a credit freeze on your account can give you a high level of security against fraudulent activity.
- Credit freezes don’t affect your credit score: Credit freezes don’t affect your credit score, so you can place a credit freeze on your report without damaging your credit.
- You can still access your credit report: While lenders and other companies won’t be able to access your credit, you can still review your personal credit report. Reviewing your credit report regularly is a good idea to ensure your information is correct.
Drawbacks to a credit freeze
While a credit freeze can be a useful tool, there are some downsides you should keep in mind.
- There’s no guarantee of protection: Credit freezes can’t prevent all kinds of fraudulent activity. Credit freezes only stop thieves from opening new accounts in your name; if your current credit card or bank information is compromised, they are still able to complete transactions. It’s important to continually monitor all current accounts for fraudulent activity.
- Credit freezes require extra work: With some types of fraud protection — such as fraud alerts — you can submit one request and it’ll apply to your account across all three credit bureaus. However, credit freezes work differently. You’ll have to contact each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — separately to place a credit freeze on your credit reports.
- There could be delays opening new accounts: If you decide to open a new credit card account or apply for a loan, you’ll have to thaw your credit, or remove the credit freeze. That process can take several days, delaying your ability to qualify for new credit.
How to freeze your credit
In past years, you’d have to pay a fee to put a credit freeze into effect. However, thanks to a new federal law, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit report for free.
To place a credit freeze on your credit report, you need to contact each of the three credit bureaus individually; each bureau has their own process for placing a credit freeze. With all three bureaus, you can request a credit freeze over the phone, through their websites, or via the mail.
Once you have submitted your request for a credit freeze, the credit bureau will issue you a PIN number. Make sure you keep that PIN number in a secure location; you’ll need it later on to remove the freeze.
Here’s how to do an Equifax credit freeze:
- By phone: You can call 800-349-9960 to request a credit freeze. You’ll be asked to provide your Social Security number, street address, and state of residence. After the credit freeze is complete, Equifax will mail your PIN to you.
- Online: Visit the Equifax website. You’ll be asked for your name, address, and Social Security number. You’ll be asked a series of questions to confirm your identity. Once complete, you can open a myEquifax account and put the credit freeze into effect. You will be issued a PIN number.
- By mail: You can request a credit freeze by mailing Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348. You’ll need to include your full name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, and send in copies of documents that show your name and address, such as utility bills or your passport. Your PIN number will be mailed to you.
Here’s how to do an Experian credit freeze:
- By phone: Just call 888-397-3742 and request a credit freeze. You’ll be asked to provide your Social Security number, full name, birthdate, and address. Once complete, you’ll receive a PIN number in the mail.
- Online: Visit the Experian website to start the process. Select if you are placing a credit freeze on your own account or on behalf of a minor. From there, the site will prompt you to enter your personal information. With the online option, you can opt to enter your own PIN, which may make it easier to remember.
By mail: You can send a request for a credit freeze in the mail by sending a letter to Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013. Your request should include the following information:
- Your full name, including middle initial
- Social Security number
- Complete addresses for the past two years
- Date of birth
- One copy of a government-issued identification card, such as a driver’s license
- One copy of a utility bill, bank, or insurance statement (or other similar document)
Here’s how to place a TransUnion credit freeze:
- By phone: You can request a credit freeze by calling 888-909-8872. You’ll be asked for your name, address, birth date, and Social Security number. You’ll also be asked some questions to verify your identity. Once the call is complete, TransUnion will mail you a PIN number.
- Online: To place a credit freeze online, you must create a TransUnion account. To do so, visit the TransUnion website. On the site, you’ll be asked to enter your name, address, email address, and Social Security number. The site will ask you some questions to confirm your identity before the credit freeze will be put into effect. You can choose a PIN, or one will be assigned to you.
- By mail: Send your request to TransUnion LLC, P.O. Box 160, Woodlyn, PA 19094. Include your legal name, address, birth date, Social Security number, and copies of documents verifying your information, such as your driver’s license and utility bills.
How to thaw your credit report
A credit freeze can provide you with security and peace of mind. However, there are times when you may want to lift a credit freeze, such as when you’re applying for an apartment, opening a credit card or buying a car. It’s essential that you thaw your credit report, or lift the security freeze, so that you can complete the transaction.
The quickest and easiest way to lift a credit freeze is to submit a request online through each of the credit bureaus. Just log into your account with each bureau to lift the freeze. You can choose to remove the freeze temporarily or end it permanently. You can also call the credit bureaus or submit a request online.
If you make a request online or over the phone, the credit freeze must be lifted within one hour. If you make the request through the postal service, it must be completed within three business days after getting your letter.
Other ways to protect your credit
While a credit freeze can be useful, it may not be the best option in all scenarios. There are several other ways you can secure your credit report:
- Fraud alert: While a credit freeze locks your credit report, a fraud alert is less severe. With a fraud alert, creditors can access your credit report as long as they take extra steps to confirm your identity, such as calling you to verify that you submitted a request for credit. You can set up a fraud alert for one year by submitting a request through just one credit bureau; it will apply to all three.
- Extended fraud alert: If you’re a victim of identity theft, an extended fraud alert may be a good idea. It provides protection for seven years. To qualify for an extended fraud alert, you must file an identity theft report at IdentityTheft.gov.
- Active duty military alert: If you’re in the military and want to protect your identity while deployed, you can place an active duty military alert on your account. It lasts for one year, though it can be renewed until your deployment ends. To place an active duty military alert on your credit report, contact one of the credit bureaus.
- Credit lock services: If you want continual credit monitoring, another option is a credit lock service. These services are offered by each of the three credit bureaus. Credit locks are easier to lift than credit freeze, so they offer more flexibility, but they often have a monthly fee.
The bottom line
Identity theft is frighteningly pervasive. To prevent thieves from using your information, putting a credit freeze into effect can be a smart — and free — measure.
Whether you decide to place a credit freeze on your account or opt for a fraud alert, make sure you review your credit report regularly to ensure the information is accurate; if there are errors, reach out to the credit bureaus right away to dispute any mistakes. You can view your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.