With more and more companies losing consumer information in data breaches, it gets harder to keep your personal information from falling into the hands of a criminal. One of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is by freezing your credit report. With a security freeze in place, your credit report can’t be accessed. And, because your credit report is frozen, an identity thief would have an extremely difficult time opening accounts in your name. After all, most businesses need to access your credit report to approve your application.
Once you freeze your credit report, it stays frozen until you contact the credit bureaus to remove the freeze. The freeze won’t expire after a certain amount of time, so you don’t have to worry about renewing it. If you temporarily unfreeze your credit report to apply for credit of your own, you’ll have to make sure you freeze it again.
Do You Need to Freeze Your Credit Report?
You might freeze your credit report if you’ve already been a victim of identity theft or you suspect your personal information may have been compromised. For example, if you receive a data breach notification from a company, freezing your credit report can prevent future identity theft. Even if you don’t have a reason to believe your personal information is out there, you can request a credit report freeze as a preventative measure.
The Steps to Freeze Your Credit Report
Visit each bureau’s website and select the option to freeze credit report. You need to complete the steps to freeze your credit report separately at all three credit bureaus. The credit bureaus won’t share your freeze information with each other.
Equifax: Visit https://www.freeze.equifax.com/ or call 1-800-348-0996
Experian: Visit https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html or call 888-397-3742
TransUnion: Visit https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze or call 888-909-8872
When you apply for a security freeze, you’ll have to provide some information to verify your identity so the credit report knows you’re the one freezing your credit report. This includes your name, address, social security number, and date of birth. The credit bureau might also request a copy of your driver’s license and a recent utility bill.
It will cost between $3 and $15 to freeze your credit report at each credit bureau. You’ll also have to pay a fee each time you want to unfreeze and re-freeze your credit report. The exact fee depends on the state you live in and whether you’ve been a victim of identity theft. If you are an identity theft victim, you must provide the credit bureaus with a copy of your identity theft report. That may include a police report or a notarized identity theft affidavit.
Following its massive data breach in 2017, Equifax is waiving any fee to freeze, temporarily unfreeze, or permanently unfreeze your credit report through June 30, 2018. The free Equifax credit freeze is not the only thing positive to come from this security mishap. The recent Senate banking bill could make freezing credit free for all of us. This initiative would require that all credit bureaus allow us consumers the right to freeze credit upon request at no cost. The bill is widely supported and is expected to pass.
After you complete the steps to freeze your credit report, the credit bureau will mail notification that your freeze was successful. Expect to receive the letter within 7 to 10 business days after you complete the freeze process. You’ll receive a password or PIN that you can use to temporarily or permanently lift the credit freeze. Keep your passwords in a safe place where they can’t be accessed by thieves or hackers.
Once the Freeze Is In Place
Once your credit report has been frozen, most businesses won’t be able to check it. Certain businesses can still access your credit report even when it’s frozen. That includes companies you already have an account with and debt collectors who are collecting debts on your existing accounts. You can still access your own credit report to monitor for account fraud and accuracy of your credit information. Government agencies will also be able to access your credit report under certain circumstances.
You’ll have to temporarily lift (thaw) the credit freeze when you want to apply for credit or if you’re applying for a job that needs to review your credit as part of the hiring process. That means you won’t be able to spontaneously apply for a new credit card, e.g. when you’re shopping and the cashier asks if you want to save 10% on your purchase by applying for credit. Unfreeze your credit report a day or two before you need to make an application, then re-freeze your credit report once you’re done.
What Is the Impact of Freezing Your Credit Report?
Freezing your credit report doesn’t hurt your FICO credit score. That’s a plus if you’re working to rebuild your credit or you’re trying to maintain a great credit score. You may even benefit from freezing your credit, since inquiries to your credit will be limited. Hard inquiries – those made when you apply for credit – count for 10% of your credit score for 12 months.
Make sure you know the limitations of freezing your credit report. A security freeze will prevent thieves from opening new accounts in your name. However, a security freeze won’t prevent a thief from taking over your current accounts or from applying for accounts that don’t require a credit check. You should continue to practice other measures to protect your credit.
Credit Report Freeze vs. Fraud Alert
A fraud alert is another method of protecting your credit from identity thieves, but it’s not as secure as freezing your credit report. While the security freeze completely locks your credit report, a fraud alert simply warns businesses to verify your identity before approving any applications made in your name.
You only have to place a fraud alert with one credit bureau and that bureau will notify the others and they will also add a fraud alert. There’s no cost to add a fraud alert which expires after 90 days – or 7 years if you submit documents proving you’ve been a victim of identity theft. You can apply for new credit without having to contact the credit bureaus first, but you may have to provide additional documents that prove your identity.
Freezing your credit report is a stronger method of protecting your credit than placing a fraud alert. Choose this option for a better guarantee against identity theft. You can leave the credit report freeze in place as long as you want. If you decide that you want to remove the freeze for good, contact each credit bureau to permanently lift the credit report freeze.