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Posted on July 15, 2020 by in Credit Fraud & Monitoring, Personal

What is a Credit Freeze?

A credit freeze, also called a security freeze, is a tool that allows you to restrict access to your credit report. Credit freezes are now free for everyone in every state. By “freezing” your credit report, creditors are blocked from viewing your credit history and are more likely to prohibit approval on new account openings. Most lenders need to see your credit report before they will extend any new credit. So, a credit freeze can make it more difficult for an identity thief to open new accounts in your name.

Keep reading to understand the steps you need to take to freeze your credit, plus discover answers to many more of your credit freeze questions.

How to Freeze Your Credit for Free: Three Easy Steps

You might be wondering what it takes to freeze your credit. The process is fairly straightforward but does take some time, as you’ll need to contact each credit bureau separately by phone or online. No third-party sites can place a credit freeze on your behalf; you must do it directly. Once contacted, the credit bureaus must put a credit freeze in place within one business day.

  1. Contact major credit bureaus | To freeze your credit, you will need to contact Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion individually to establish a credit freeze at each credit bureau.

    Equifax or 1-800-525-6285

    Transunion or 1-800-680-7289

    Experian or 1-888-397-3742

  2. Provide your information to freeze your credit | The credit bureaus will need your full name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number, at a minimum. You may also need to answer questions to prove “you are who you say you are” and that you have the authority to freeze your credit or that of a minor or incapacitated adult under your care.
  3. Receive (and protect) your PIN | When freezing your credit, you may receive a password or PIN from the credit bureau to protect your credit from being accessed by criminals with your personal information. Safely store the PIN or password, such as in a password manager or electronic vault, as you will need it to unfreeze your credit when you are ready to apply for new credit and loans.

How Do I Remove a Credit Freeze?

To remove your credit freeze, you will need to contact each credit bureau again, providing the PIN or password provided when you originally froze your credit. You can remove a credit freeze temporarily or permanently.

If you’ve forgotten your PIN or password, the credit bureau will have to use other means to confirm your identity and authorize the credit freeze removal. The credit freeze process may change from time to time, and each credit bureau will have a different process in place. For example, Equifax currently does not require the use of a PIN to manage a credit freeze.

How Does a Credit Freeze Work?

A credit freeze prevents lenders from pulling your credit, which is a standard requirement in approving a credit card, loan, or other borrowing application. If your credit report cannot be accessed by creditors, they are not likely to open new lines of credit or approve loans in your name. A credit freeze is not guaranteed to prevent all new account openings or account takeovers, or other forms of identity theft, as some types of accounts can still be opened without a review of your credit report.

A credit freeze will not block you from applying for a new job, buying insurance, or renting an apartment. A credit freeze will only apply to creditors, not to employers running background checks, or potential landlords renting property. A credit freeze will also not prevent you from accessing your free annual credit reports from the three major credit bureaus.

Is Freezing Your Credit a Good Idea?

Placing a credit freeze as part of protecting your identity is often recommended after fraud occurs. Still, it’s also a good idea to freeze your credit as part of a multi-layered, proactive protection plan. Fraudsters can open credit accounts using your personal information, damaging your credit history and your credit score. If you are a victim of a data breach that included pieces of your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) — such as your name, address, and Social Security number — you are at risk of identity theft. PII stolen through data breaches and scams is often sold on the Dark Web and purchased by identity thieves looking to profit from your good name. If you were a victim of identity theft, you might be at a higher risk for credit card fraud, making you a perfect candidate for a security freeze.

Of course, there are pros and cons to freezing your credit. One benefit of freezing your credit is to keep new fraudulent accounts from being opened with your personal information. If you, or an identity thief, attempt to open a new credit card, take out a loan, or open a new account that requires a credit check, it would result in a denial notice if the credit is frozen. One con to freezing your credit is the need to remove that freeze any time you want to open a new line of credit yourself, including mortgages, auto loans, or credit cards. Temporarily or permanently lifting a credit freeze can take some time as you will need to contact the credit bureaus and provide your PIN, password, or personally identifying details to authorize the removal.

When Should I Freeze My Credit?

There are several basic situations in which you may want to freeze your credit:

  • When you’ve been part of a data breachSome breaches may affect you directly. For example, if your doctor’s office tells you that its records may have been compromised, you should put a freeze in place while the breach is under investigation.
  • After suspected identity theft | When a glance through a credit report brings up red flags, it’s smart to take action, which often includes a credit freeze. This security freeze can be a temporary halt while you report fraud and alert authorities.
  • For kids and pre-teens | Until your child is ready for that first job, there’s little reason that someone should be accessing his or her credit report. With the prevalence of child identity theft, it’s also a good idea to freeze a child’s credit report. A parent or legal guardian may place a credit freeze on a minor’s credit report for free under federal law.
  • For older adults | Like the identity theft threats that children face, seniors are also top targets for criminals. People who are retired and living on a fixed income likely won’t have the same needs for credit-report access as younger adults. Unless they plan to take on a new job or get a new vehicle or home, seniors may want to freeze credit as a protective tactic.

How Much Does a Credit Freeze Cost?

It is now free to freeze and unfreeze your credit at all three major credit bureaus, thanks to a federal law passed in September of 2018. Previously, costs varied from state to state and bureau to bureau. However, lawmakers stepped in one year after the major Equifax data breach that exposed the personal information of 148 million Americans. Now, credit freezes are free to everyone, not just identity theft and data breach victims.

How Long Does a Credit Freeze Last?

A credit freeze will last until you ask for it to be removed at each of the three major credit bureaus. You can temporarily lift a credit freeze if you apply for new credit or loans, or you can permanently remove a credit freeze if you so choose. When you call the credit bureau(s) to remove your credit freeze, they must remove it within one hour. If you mail in your request, it can take up to three business days for the credit freeze to be removed.

Will a Credit Freeze Impact My Credit Score?

A credit freeze will not impact your credit score either way, good or bad. It’s simply a tool to reduce the likelihood that new credit accounts can be opened without your knowledge. It’s much more likely that a fraudulent credit account will lead to damage to your credit score and your credit history. So, keeping a criminal from opening a new account under your identity is a real benefit of a credit freeze.

Does a Credit Freeze Stop Identity Theft?

Setting up a credit freeze is smart and is one step to take to protect against fraud and limit the damage if you are ever a victim of identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that consumers freeze their credit to protect themselves from identity theft, which was the largest category of complaints received by the FTC in 2019. But what if a credit freeze doesn’t work?

Keeping safe against identity theft is all about layers of protection. If one layer fails, you’ll have another in place to secure you. The more layers you have, the more secure you’ll be, though nothing is a guarantee. The best way to reduce the risk of identity theft is with multiple tools, such as credit report monitoring, credit score monitoring, dark web monitoring, proactive best-in-class identity theft protection, AND putting a credit freeze in place. The more layers of security that you have in place, the better. Some services bundle these layers of protection together in one easy-to-use package, such as IdentityForce’s UltraSecure+Credit.

What Are the Alternatives to a Credit Freeze?

Although credit freezes may stop new accounts from being opened in your name, a credit freeze can fail to protect you against other identity fraud crimes. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, new fraudulent account openings are among the rarest types of identity theft out there, affecting only four percent of victims. Children’s credit should remain frozen until they are ready to apply for jobs or student loans, to guard against synthetic identity theft.

A holistic approach to safeguarding against identity theft is combining credit monitoring, credit freeze, and identity theft protection with fraud alerts. IdentityForce provides the industry’s top-rated identity theft protection. Our team is committed to providing ongoing resources and tools to help you stay protected and aware of the latest scams and trends. The time is now to protect yourselfyour family, and your employees. Get started with a Free Trial of IdentityForce for 100% peace of mind.

**Originally published May 3, 2016. Updated July 15, 2020.**