Every time you submit your personal information to open a credit card, get a loan, or rent a car, you increase the possibility of your data falling into the wrong hands. Data breaches have reached a records in 2021according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
If your personal information has been compromised by a data breach, you may be concerned about identity theft. But even if you think your personal information is safe, it’s a good idea to take steps to prevent thieves from opening accounts in your name.
Freezing your credit is an easy step that prevents someone from using your personal information for financial gain.
How do I freeze my credit?
The three major credit card companies all give you the ability to freeze your credit. When your credit file is frozen, creditors cannot check your file, which prevents someone who has your personal information from opening a new line of credit in your name.
If you want to apply for new credit or a loan, you can lift the freeze with a PIN code or a phone call.
You must freeze your credit individually with each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They all have a slightly different process. You can request a freeze online or over the phone. All three also have a snail mail option, but online is the easiest way to go.
Equifax asks you to create a myEquifax account to manage online access to your credit file. You must provide your name, address, date of birth, social security number, and cell phone number so Equifax can verify your identity. You will also create a password to access your account. Once the account is created, you can manage your freeze, check your credit report, and start or monitor a dispute. To start or manage a freeze over the phone, contact the Equifax call center at 800-387-4329.
Experian has an online site Security Freeze Center where you can start and manage your gel. You will need to provide your full name, address, date of birth, email address and SSN. You can create a PIN or ask the company to assign you one. You will need the PIN each time you want to lift or restore the credit freeze.
TransUnion asks you to register for a PIN-controlled account to manage your gel. You will need to provide the same credentials required by other credit reporting agencies. You must choose a six-digit PIN code which you will use to start and stop the credit freeze.
You can also visit Google Play Store or Apple Store and download credit lock app for each credit bureau. With apps, you manage access to your account with a simple swipe.
What are the pros and cons of freezing my credit?
Freezing your credit prevents creditors from checking your report before opening a new account. This prevents an identity thief from opening an account in your name. However, it also prevents you from getting new credits until you lift the freeze.
When applying for new credit, such as a mortgage, ask which credit bureaus the lender checks, then temporarily stop freezing those accounts.
Lifting the freeze is quick and easy, as long as you keep track of your password or PIN. TransUnion says the freeze is usually lifted as soon as you request it, but advises allowing an hour for the account to open.
Creating a freeze does not affect your credit score or any lines of credit you already have. If your credit report is blocked and someone steal your credit card number, they can charge the account, so freezing your credit does not stop all illegal activity.
Are there alternatives to freezing my credit?
A credit freeze is simple, free and accessible to everyone. The credit bureaus offer another product, a credit lock, which lets you control access to your account through an app. Locking can be free or require you to sign up for a paid credit monitoring service. You cannot have both a freeze and a lock on your account. If you freeze your account and then decide to lock it, you must first remove the freeze.
TransUnion offers a free product, true identity, which lets you lock or unlock your credit report instantly through an app. You also receive alerts when someone tries to access your credit report. The company’s paid credit monitoring program adds features such as a credit score tool, access to a credit score specialist, and identity theft insurance.
Equifax offers a free lock app, Lock and alert, so you can control when your account is unlocked. The app also sends an alert when someone tries to access your account.
Experian requires you to buy its Creditworks Premium Service to use its lock function. The service includes identity theft insurance, notification of new credit activity, and monthly updated credit reports.
Another alternative to freezing credit is to buy a third party identity theft protection and monitoring service.
Short term options
Credit freezes are free and open to all consumers. The report remains frozen until you delete it. Consumers who meet specific conditions also have a few other tools to control access to their credit information.
- Fraud alert: If you suspect potential fraud, you can place a fraud alert on your account. While the fraud alert is in effect, a company must verify your identity before they can issue credit in your name or make changes to existing accounts. A fraud alert is free and lasts for one year, although you can renew it. When you contact one of the three major credit bureaus to issue a fraud alert, they must tell the other bureaus to place an alert on your account. You also get a free copy of your credit report from all three bureaus.
- Extended Fraud Alert: This free option is only open to victims of identity theft who have filed a police report or FTC Identity Theft Report. It lasts seven years and requires businesses to contact you before issuing credit in your name or making changes to your accounts. You are also entitled to free credit reports from each bureau twice a year. (Space them out so you can monitor your credit every two months.) As with a regular fraud alert, if you apply to a bureau, they will contact the others for you.
- Active Duty Alert: Service members can institute an active duty alert to require companies to verify their identity before issuing credit. The initial alert lasts for one year and can be renewed as long as you are deployed. There are no fees, and when you contact a credit bureau, they must alert the other two.
Can I freeze my child’s credit report?
Minors generally do not have a credit report, which makes it easier for fraudsters to steal their identity. To protect your children, you can freeze their credit reports.
When a parent or guardian requests a freeze on a child’s credit, the credit bureau makes a credit report for the child and then freezes it. Before this can happen, parents must prove their own identity, the identity of their child, and their relationship. This requires submitting copies of documents such as your driver’s license, child’s birth certificate, and social security cards.
You must apply to each office where you wish to freeze your child’s credit.
Can someone see my credit report if it’s frozen?
When you freeze your credit report, the credit bureau allow certain entities to access it. These include:
- Government agencies
- Businesses that use credit information for purposes such as insurance underwriting or job selection
- Companies that provide credit monitoring and related services
- Companies you have a current account with and collection agencies working on their behalf
- Companies that make pre-approved credit offers
Will freezing my credit affect my credit rating?
Freezing your credit has no effect on your credit score. However, if you don’t lift the freeze when you apply for a new line of credit, the lender won’t be able to see your credit report. If the lender cannot review your credit report, your credit application will be denied.