I used to ignore security breaches.
Afterall, I don’t keep give my personal information out often and keep things pretty secure.
Then the Equifax Data Breach hit 147 million people, that’s almost half of all Americans. It’s like flipping a coin and having your most sensitive data stolen if it lands on heads. If Equifax can get hacked, anyone can get hacked.
Now I consider it a matter of time before my identity gets stolen. And when it does, I’m prepared to freeze my credit report to prevent further damage.
Here’s how to freeze your credit quickly and easily.
What Is a Credit Freeze and How Does it Work
A credit freeze, also called a security freeze, will place a lock on your credit report. This means any creditor, such as a bank or a credit card company, cannot receive a copy of the report. The majority of creditors will not issue credit in your name unless they can see a credit report.
This means that even if someone has stolen your personal information, they will not be able to open accounts in your name.
What Do Identity Thieves Want?
When stealing information, an identity thief is seeking data that specially identifies you. These are items including:
- Full name
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Home address
- Telephone number
- Mother’s maiden name
- Various financial account numbers
Creditors use this information to verify your identification. But with stolen information in hand, an identity thief can impersonate you and open accounts in your name. From there, they can rack up debt, try to get access to your real accounts, and trash your credit.
When to Get a Credit Freeze and When Not To
If a credit freeze completely protects you, why not freeze your credit all the time? There are some complications and unintended consequences. Here’s when you should keep your credit unfrozen and when you should freeze it.
Do Get a Credit Freeze
- To negate identity theft: If a company has notified you of a theft of your personal information, you should freeze your credit immediately.
- Suspicion of identity theft: Even if you only suspect someone has stolen some key personal data, freezing your credit is a good idea.
- For basic protection: If you do not expect to need to open new accounts or loans in the near future, just freeze your credit report for the time being as a precaution.
- After a burglary: A burglar often steals physical items from your home, but he or she may not stop there. If he or she grabbed some mail or financial paperwork during the burglary, you may want to freeze your credit to avoid problems.
Do Not Get a Credit Freeze
- Before obtaining a loan: If you know you’ll be purchasing a car or home appliance on credit soon, you won’t want your credit report to be frozen when you fill out the application, or you’ll be wasting your time.
- Before moving: When you move, you often will need to open a few new utility accounts and fill out a rental agreement at an apartment. Having your credit report frozen makes all of these things impossible.
- Before changing insurance companies: An insurance company will check your credit report before issuing a policy.
- Before changing jobs: Some employers will run a credit report on you as part of the hiring process, depending on the job you’ll be holding. Having a frozen credit report could delay your hiring.
How to Get a Credit Freeze
When freezing your credit, you will need to issue a freeze at all three credit reporting agencies, which include:
At the time of the request, you will need to provide some personal information to enact the freeze. When you freeze your credit, you’ll receive a PIN that you’ll need to unfreeze your credit later.
You have three options for requesting or removing a credit freeze.
- Equifax: Visit the Consumer Services Center page to place a freeze on your credit report or to request a credit report. You can manage an existing freeze from this page too.
- Experian: Visit the Security Freeze page to enact or remove a freeze on your credit. At this page, you also can request a temporary lifting of the freeze on your credit to grant access to a particular entity. You can request to have Experian resend your PIN to unfreeze the credit too.
- TransUnion: Visit the Credit Freeze page at the TransUnion website to manage the freezing and unfreezing of your credit report. TransUnion even offers an app for your smartphone that you can use to manage the freezing of your credit report.
By Certified Mail
- Equifax: To contact Equifax by certified mail, send the letter requesting the security freeze to Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348-5788.
- Experian: Send a certified letter to Experian at Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013, to freeze your credit.
- TransUnion: You can send a certified letter to TransUnion to manage the freezing and unfreezing of your credit at TransUnion, P.O. Box 160, Woodlyn, PA 19094.
When sending a letter, you will want to include all of the desired information. If you’re missing any personal information, the credit reporter will delay your request. You may need to send items like:
- A copy of a driver’s license
- A copy of a Social Security card
- A copy of a utility bill to verify your address
- Equifax: Call Equifax to freeze or unfreeze your credit report at (888) 298-0045.
- Experian: You can call Experian at (888) 397-3742 to manage a freeze on your credit report.
- TransUnion: Contact TransUnion at (888) 909-8872 about freezing or unfreezing your credit report.
How Long to Freeze Credit
When you choose to freeze your credit, you can leave the freeze in place as long as you want. You will want to unfreeze it ahead of time whenever you expect to apply for a new loan or account.
When you choose to freeze or unfreeze your credit, understand that it doesn’t happen instantly. Federal law requires that the reporting agency freeze or unfreeze your credit report one hour after receiving the request by telephone or through an online form. If you make the request outside normal business hours, it could take longer than an hour.
If you make the request in writing by mail, the change must occur within three business days after the mail arrives at the reporting agency.
I recommend unfreezing your account at least a few days before you need it.
How to Unfreeze Credit
When you want to unfreeze your credit report, just notify the reporting agencies. You can use the same means of contacting the reporting agencies as we mentioned above. Provide the PIN you received at the time you froze the credit, and you’ll be ready to unfreeze the credit.
Just as when freezing your accounts, the process of unfreezing your accounts does not happen instantly. So plan ahead when you believe you will need to reverse the freezing of your credit accounts.
Things to Be Aware of When Freezing Credit
- There is no longer a cost. In the past, the reporting agencies charged people up to $10 per freeze or unfreeze request. However, a recent federal bill eliminated the charge, so it’s now free to freeze and unfreeze your credit.
- Current creditors can still see your credit report. Your current creditors may want to see your report while you have an account with them for things like fraud control or a general account review. They can access your report, even when you have a freeze on it.
- Don’t freeze your report in hopes of hiding your financial situation. Freezing your credit doesn’t hide it from law enforcement or child support agencies. These organizations can go around the credit freeze to see your report. Collection agencies working on behalf of your current creditors also can access the frozen report.
- Consider a fraud alert. If the credit freeze seems too extreme for your needs or too much hassle, you can place a fraud alert on your credit instead. This will force any potential lender to enact further identity verification steps before allowing someone to open an account in your name.
- A credit freeze doesn’t necessarily prevent loss. If a thief has already opened an account in your name or has stolen your credit card or bank account number, you could have a loss. The credit freeze process only prevents someone from opening a new account using your personal information.
- You may still receive credit offers. A credit freeze doesn’t prevent you from receiving offers for credit cards or mortgage refinancing in the mail. If someone steals your mail, they could use it to access the offer. As long as the creditor checks for a credit freeze before accepting the fraudulent request, you should have protection. If the offer is “preapproved,” though, the creditor may not check for a credit freeze.
- It does not affect your credit score. Your credit score does not change when you freeze or unfreeze your credit. You also still have the right to access a free credit report annually.
Trust Your Instincts, Freeze Your Credit
Whenever you think your personal data was accessed, freeze your credit. Trust your instincts. If something feels off, get your credit report locked down.
And if you don’t open new loans or accounts often, consider freezing your credit as a default. You just have to plan ahead for times where you may need to unfreeze the credit, so you don’t end up blocking yourself from opening a new account or even receiving a job.
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