You may have heard the horror stories of identity theft and fraud from your family and friends. It’s never fun to have your personal data taken and used without your consent. This type of theft often ends with significant headaches and years of repairing the damage.
But there is a way to protect yourself by learning how to freeze your credit.
This guide will discover what a credit freeze is and how it can protect you from fraud and identity theft.
What Is a Credit Freeze?
When freezing your credit, you essentially stop anyone from pulling a credit report without your consent.
A credit freeze also stops any new accounts in your name without your knowledge.
Even if a less-than-savory character has your Social Security Number, birthdate, mother’s maiden name, or other personal information, the credit freeze stops scammers and protects you.
Because a bank or credit agency requires a credit report during the application process, a credit freeze denies the application, and no new accounts or credit lines are created.
Also known as a “security freeze,” a credit freeze is the best way to stop identity theft and fraud.
How To Freeze My Credit
Naturally, your next question is probably, “How do I freeze my credit?” It’s a good question with a simple answer.
To freeze your credit, you will need to contact the top three credit bureaus individually:
It’s important to note that as of 2018, federal law requires all three bureaus to offer free credit freezes.
Here is more information about each bureau:
To get an Equifax credit freeze, you must contact them directly.
You can do this:
- Online at equifax.com
- By phone: 800-349-9960
- By mail: Equifax Security Freeze; P.O. Box 105788; Atlanta, GA 30348
Online is the quickest way to request an Equifax security freeze.
No matter what method you choose to notify Equifax to freeze your credit, you must give your full name (include suffixes such Jr., Sr., etc.), address, date of birth, and Social Security Number. To verify this information, you will need to include documents such as a valid driver’s license, U.S. Passport, military ID, bank statements, or utility bills.
To freeze credit for minors or elders, you will need to show Power of Attorney documents as well as the required verification documents listed above.
Freezing your credit with Equifax is just the first step in fraud protection. You will need to also contact the other two bureaus.
To request a security freeze at Experian, you must reach out directly either online, by phone, or by sending notice in the mail:
- Online: Experian.com
- By phone: 888‑397‑3742
- By mail: Experian Security Freeze; P.O. Box 9554; Allen, TX 75013
When requesting an Experian credit freeze, you will need the same verified identification documents (driver’s license, bank statements, etc.) that show your current name, address, Social Security Number, and birth date.
If you freeze your credit online with Experian, you will also have the opportunity to create an Experian account with a custom PIN number for security measures. The company mails you this PIN when you make the request by phone or mail.
Keep this PIN in a safe place because you will need it to unfreeze your credit with Experian.
Two bureaus down and only one more to go complete the freezing of your credit.
When you request a TransUnion credit freeze, the credit bureau will create a password-protected account for you.
You can use this same account to unfreeze your credit when necessary.
Once again, you’ll contact the credit bureau directly to request a freeze on your credit in one of three ways:
- Online: TransUnion.com
- By phone: 888-909-8872.
- By mail: TransUnion; P.O. Box 160; Woodlyn, PA 19094
TransUnion also offers an app available on all mobile devices for iOS and Android users. The TransUnion app provides convenience for those who need to get their credit frozen quickly.
You will need to provide similar identification documents such as military ID, passport, valid driver’s license, or U.S. Passport with name, address, date of birth, and Social Security Number to freeze your credit.
Remember, it’s free to get a security freeze on your credit with all three credit bureaus.
When to Freeze My Credit
There are times when you need to have your credit report readily available.
If, for example, you are shopping for a car, furniture, or other large-ticket item and will need a line of credit, then you do not need a security freeze on your credit.
However, if you are not actively pursuing getting a credit card, line of credit, or new bank account, then it’s a smart choice to freeze your credit.
Especially if you were previously a victim of identity theft or fraud, freezing your credit is practically a must-do action step to protect your information from further damage and abuse.
Here is when you should freeze your credit:
- If your personal data was exposed in a third-party data breach
- You are a victim of fraud or identity theft
- Your credit card was compromised or stolen
- Your mail was tampered with or stolen
- To protect your personal data from fraud or identity theft
Why Should I Freeze My Credit?
“So it’s free to get a security freeze, and it helps to protect from fraud and identity theft. But are there any disadvantages to freezing my credit?”
You ask another great question.
Let’s break down the pros and cons of freezing your credit:
Pros of a Credit Freeze
We’ve already explored some basic pros of getting a credit freeze: there’s no cost, and it protects against fraud. Here are a few more benefits:
Prevents New Lines of Credit
Another benefit of getting a credit freeze is that it prevents scammers from opening new credit cards or lines of credit. Even if they have your information, the freeze automatically stops any credit reports from getting pulled, and the application is denied.
Your personal information is safe, and you get to say, “Not today, scammers!”
Does Not Affect Credit Score
One more benefit from freezing your credit is that it doesn’t affect your credit score. The amount of debt you have and when you make your payments ultimately decides your score, but having a credit freeze does not determine the score. Keep in mind, a credit freeze does not stop your score from getting higher or lower; it simply freezes access to third-party credit agencies and banks from accessing your score.
Cons of a Credit Freeze
Getting a security freeze is mostly beneficial, but we would be remiss to neglect mentioning the cons. Luckily there are only a few:
There are quite a few steps to take to ensure your credit gets frozen. You have to reach out to all three credit bureaus and keep track of their separate PINs and passwords when you need to remove the freeze. And if you happen to misplace or forget a PIN, you’ll have to jump through even more hoops to gain access again.
Forgetting to Remove Freeze When Opening New Line of Credit
Imagine trying to buy furniture or a new car and forgetting that you have a freeze on your credit? It can be a bit embarrassing and cumbersome to have to temporarily lift the freeze so that you can make that big-ticket purchase.
Doesn’t Stop Fraud on Current Accounts
Even though a freeze stops scammers from opening new accounts, it, unfortunately, does not stop them from accessing your current accounts. So if they do manage to get your Social Security Number or credit card number, you will also need to contact your bank and credit card companies to stop all future purchases.
Who Can Access Frozen Credit
A security freeze stops banks and credit agencies from accessing your credit score. However, certain people are exceptions to the rule and can still pull a credit report even with a credit freeze. These exceptions are:
- Auto-insurance agencies
- Child-support enforcers
- Current creditors and debt collectors
- Government agencies
- Landlords or rental companies
- Lenders who already had previous access
- Marketers who want to send you offers
- Potential employers who already had previous access
- Utility companies
- You – you have access to pull your own credit report
Security Freeze vs. Credit Lock
A credit lock is similar in function to a security freeze or credit freeze: both prevent access to your credit report.
However, a credit lock is done instantly online or on a mobile app and may require a fee. And credit locks also don’t have the same legal protections as a credit freeze.
How to Unfreeze Credit
To unfreeze your credit, you will need to contact each credit bureau once again and submit a request. You will need to make sure you remember your PIN for each agency to verify your account.
You can choose to permanently or temporarily unfreeze your credit. Temporarily unfreezing your credit is a great option if you are house shopping or car shopping.
It’s a smart decision to freeze your credit, especially if you are a fraud victim or want to prevent identity theft.
Once you reach out to all three credit bureaus, you can freeze your credit to stop fraudulent or misguided people from opening new lines of credit in your name.
Protect yourself from a nightmare of hassle and personal data damage by freezing your credit today.