Credit and Identity Theft

 

If you’re concerned about identity theft, those reported mega-data breaches, or someone gaining access to your credit report without your permission, you might consider placing a credit freeze on your report.

What is a credit freeze?
Also known as a security freeze, this tool lets you restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t see your file, they may not extend the credit.

Does a credit freeze affect my credit score?
A credit freeze does not affect your credit score.

A credit freeze also does not:
• Prevent you from getting your free annual credit report

• Keep you from opening a new account, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance. But if you’re doing any of these, you’ll need to lift the freeze temporarily, either for a specific time or for a specific party, say, a potential landlord or employer. The cost and lead times to lift a freeze vary, so it’s best to check with the credit reporting company in advance.

• Prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. You still need to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.

How do I place a freeze on my credit reports?

Contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies:
• Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
• Experian — 1 888 397 3742
• TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872

You'll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. Fees vary based on where you live, but commonly range from $5 to $10.

After receiving your freeze request, each credit reporting company will send you a confirmation letter containing a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you choose to lift the freeze.

How do I lift a freeze
In a few states, credit freezes expire after seven years. In the vast majority of states, a freeze remains in place until you ask the credit reporting company to temporarily lift it or remove it altogether. A credit reporting company must lift a freeze no later than three business days after getting your request. The cost to lift a freeze varies by state.

If you opt for a temporary lift because you are applying for credit or a job, and you can find out which credit reporting company the business will contact for your file, you can save some money by lifting the freeze only at that particular company.

What’s the difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert?
A credit freeze locks down your credit. A fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report as long as they take steps to verify your identity. For example, if you provide a telephone number, the business must call you to verify whether you are the person making the credit request. Fraud alerts may be effective at stopping someone from opening new credit accounts in your name, but they may not prevent the misuse of your existing accounts. Batten down the hatches! You still need to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.

For more information:

FTC.gov Credit Freeze FAQ

Fraud alert or credit freeze – which is right for you?

 

Experian - 7 Things You Need to Know Before Freezing Your Credit

 

MaryAnn Comparin Jones