Whether you suspect you've been the victim of identity theft or anticipate this risk, a credit freeze may be a good solution to gain greater control over who is accessing your credit history. Also called a security freeze, this option to protect your credit is available at the three major credit reporting bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax.
What Is a Credit Freeze?
With their hands on certain information, such as a Social Security number, thieves could apply for credit approval to access a new credit card or loan. However, a freeze on your credit prevents new creditors from looking at your credit report and score to combat thieves using stolen credit information for fraudulent purposes. A credit freeze is when you request that your credit report is not released. Existing creditors that you already have a history with will still be able to access your credit information.
When Should I Place a Security Freeze?
There are various scenarios where you may need to freeze your credit. These include when:
- You're a victim of identity theft. Identity theft is a growing problem among consumers. If you suspect you have had your information stolen or your credit card used without your authorization, you may be a victim of identity theft. Establish a credit freeze to ensure identity thieves are not able to open up new lines of credit without your permission.
- Your child is a victim of identity theft. Even if you are not an identity theft victim yourself, you might want to add a credit freeze for your children's credit reports if you believe they might have had their information taken. Children are often targeted by identity thieves because their credit histories are blank slates.
- Your information was compromised in a data breach. With data breaches becoming more common as cybercriminals aim to steal valuable information from companies in all sectors of the economy, there is a possibility that your information is floating around online and in black markets. To prevent this information from being used fraudulently, implement a security freeze, especially if your Social Security number was exposed.
How Do I Add a Credit Freeze?
The steps to begin freezing your credit are:
- Determine if there is a fee. Depending on the state you reside in, whether or not you are an identity theft victim, or your age, there may be fees involved in placing and lifting a security freeze. For example, in California, it is free for identity theft victims to add a credit freeze, but nonvictims will be charged $10.
- Contact the credit reporting bureaus. The Federal Trade Commission said the first step consumers should take to place a credit freeze is to contact the three credit reporting companies, which typically have the same process for adding the freeze through the phone or online.
- Verify your identity. TransUnion, Experian and Equifax require that you have your personal identifiable information, including your full name, address, Social Security and date of birth ready. Depending on the company, you may have to provide proof of this information using acceptable forms of identification for verification, such as a driver's license.
How Long Does a Security Freeze Last?
The freeze is in effect until you specifically request to have it lifted. You can also ask for a temporary release period or list people you want to have the authorization to get your credit report. Until they have your permission, creditors cannot be granted access to your report. In the event you requested a credit freeze for a child, the freeze will stay in effect until the minor becomes an adult. There is also the scenario that an authorized request occurs to completely remove the freeze.
When Should I Not Request a Credit Freeze?
While instituting a credit freeze gives you greater control over who receives your credit report, this could also slow down the process in which you are approved for a new line of credit, such as a mortgage or an auto loan. If you believe you need a credit freeze around the same time as submitting your credit information for a loan or application, consider looking ahead before requesting a credit freeze.
Experian recommends that you lift the freeze close to the time you are looking at applying for new credit to avoid having the freeze delay the time it takes to get the green light from creditors.
How Do I Lift a Security Freeze?
Usually, you will receive a personal identification number or password from the credit reporting company in case you will need to remove a security freeze. The process of lifting a credit freeze is similar to how you requested it to begin with. First, you need your personal information to verify your identity. Experian also requests that you have your personal identification number or password associated with the credit reporting company as well as write up a statement requesting the release of your credit report, naming the people who will have the authority to obtain your report or the time span it will be available to be requested.