If you’re the victim of identity theft or you think you might be, you may want to consider a credit freeze. A credit freeze blocks new creditors from viewing your credit report. That makes it tougher for identity thieves to open new accounts, as creditors typically won’t approve a new credit card account without first looking at your credit report.
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How Do I Freeze My Credit Report?
There isn’t a way to freeze all your credit reports in one fell swoop. You’ll have to reach out individually to each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
You can place a credit freeze by calling each of the bureaus, filling out an online form or mailing in a request via certified mail. Notably, TransUnion bills filling out an online form as the “fastest, easiest way to accomplish your goal right now.”
You’ll be asked to provide your full name, address, date of birth and Social Security number. In some instances, a copy of government-issued ID and a copy of a utility bill or financial statement will be requested to verify your address. You’ll also owe a fee, which is payable by check, money order or credit card.
Here’s all the contact information you’ll need, depending on whether you opt to file a request online, by phone or by mail:
|Credit Bureau||Website||Phone Number||Mailing Address|
|Equifax||Online form||1-800-349-9960||Equifax Security Freeze |
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, Georgia 30348
|Experian||Online form||1-888-0397-3742||Experian Security Freeze |
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, Texas 75013
|TransUnion||Online form||1-888-909-8872||TransUnion LLC |
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, Pennsylvania 19022-2000
How Does a Credit Freeze Work?
When your credit report is frozen, new creditors won’t be able to access the report’s information on your credit score and payment.
Your credit report will still be accessible to creditors with whom you already have an account, debt collectors working on their behalf and certain law enforcement and government agencies. A credit freeze does not prevent identity thieves from accessing accounts that are already open.
You will still be able to access your credit report during the freeze. The credit freeze will remain in effect until you request to lift it.
When Should I Consider Freezing My Credit Report?
The most common instance is in the case of identity theft or suspected identity theft. However, you might also consider a credit freeze if you want to limit access to your credit report, block other people from viewing your credit report or if you don’t plan to apply for credit anytime soon.
How Much Does a Credit Freeze Cost?
Fees for instituting and lifting a freeze vary depending on where you live and whether you were a victim of identity theft. The typical range is between $5 – $10. People age 65 and older sometimes receive a discount.
If you are a victim of identity theft, you may be able to get your credit reports frozen for free. You’ll need to provide a copy of the report you filed the Federal Trade Commission.
This Equifax chart provides a helpful state-by-state breakdown of the costs associated with instituting a freeze, lifting a freeze or requesting a replacement PIN.
What Happens After I’ve Requested a Credit Freeze?
Once the bureau has processed your request, you’ll receive a confirmation letter and a PIN. Be sure to hang on to that PIN, as you’ll need it to lift the freeze. If you lose it, you can request a new one but there might be a fee.
What If I Want to Undo the Freeze?
When you’re ready to do so you can completely lift the credit freeze. Or, you can lift the freeze for a certain period of time or for certain people, like a landlord.
To do so, contact each of the three agencies that you contacted to institute the freeze. You’ll need to provide sufficient information to confirm your identity, the PIN that the bureau provided you and confirmation that you want to lift the freeze. It can take several business days for the lift to take effect.
Are There Any Drawbacks To Freezing My Credit Report?
The good news: Most importantly, a credit report freeze will not affect your credit score. You can also still get your free annual credit report, open a new account, rent an apartment, buy insurance and get prescreened credit offers.
The bad news: The freeze doesn’t cover existing accounts, so identity thieves could still do damage to those. To ensure you’re totally covered in the case of identity theft, monitor bank and credit card statements carefully.
Also note that if you’re planning to apply for a new line of credit, a credit freeze will slow down the application process. It can take up to five business days for bureaus to process a request for a lift.
The Bottom Line
Have your relevant information and fee ready to go when you reach out to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Freezing your credit will prevent a potential identity thief from opening up new accounts. However, a thief can still access your existing accounts. A credit freeze will not affect your credit score, nor will it affect your ability to buy insurance, rent an apartment or get your free annual credit report. Regardless of whether you decide to institute a credit freeze, be sure to keep a close eye on existing accounts.
Tips for Dealing With Identity Theft
- Set up fraud alerts: To notify potential creditors or lenders that your identity may be compromised, place fraud alerts on your file at the credit bureaus. Also reach out to existing creditors as soon as possible to put them on notice.
- File an identity theft report: First, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Print out the online form that you fill out as an Identity Theft Affidavit. You can take that printed form to the local police department if you wish to file a report.
- Review your credit report: Take a careful look at the free annual credit reports offered by each reporting agency. Keep an eye out for unfamiliar accounts, excessive inquiries and unknown defaults or delinquencies.
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