A credit freeze restricts access to a credit report. That makes it tougher for identity thieves to open accounts in your name, because creditors often need to see a report in order to approve a new account.
If you’re not planning to apply for any new loans or credit cards in the near future, freezing your credit may be a good way to protect yourself and your family.
When to Freeze Your Credit
There are several basic situations in which freezing your credit is worth considering:
- When you’ve been part of a data breach: Some breaches may affect you directly. For example, if your medical 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, and that often includes a credit freeze. This 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 identity theft against kids, it’s often a good idea to freeze a child’s credit.
- For older adults: Similar to 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 to Freeze Your Credit
If you’re thinking about taking a step into the deep freeze for yourself, a child or an older relative, here’s what you need to know about the big chill:
- In order to put a credit freeze in place, you must contact the three nationwide credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
- You must supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information.
- A freeze remains in place until you ask for it to be lifted. That process can take up to three days. You can also request a temporary lift if applying for credit or a job.
- There may be fees for putting a freeze into place and then lifting it. The costs vary by state and by individual. For instance, in some states, both processes are free for identity theft victims and seniors.
If you’re still actively using credit, however, it’s usually easier to put other forms of protection in place. For example, an identity protection plan like IdentityForce’s UltraSecure+Credit adds a major layer of security and monitoring.
Also, make it a habit to regularly check transactions on your banking account and credit cards. Order your credit report and look for open accounts you don’t recognize or other unusual activity. If there are enough signs that identity theft is a factor, a credit freeze may be a viable strategy for preventing more damage.