Icing probably only ever comes to mind when thinking of cupcakes or winter storms, but when it comes to your finances there are occasions where you may want to “ice,” or rather freeze your credit. A credit freeze is a tool used to protect consumers from credit fraud as a result of identity theft. A credit freeze will block most companies from being able to access your credit report until it is “thawed” or lifted.
If your personal information has been compromised, it may be a good idea to put a freeze on your credit. But know that if a culprit has their hands on an already open account, they may still be able to put your credit in danger.
So, always make sure to monitor your account for fraudulent activity by setting up fraud alerts and/or locking your credit file or contacting your individual credit bureaus to put a freeze on your account.
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How does a credit freeze work?
A credit freeze makes it easier for anyone who has had their identity stolen – i.e. account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords, etc. – to stop the perpetrators from opening credit cards or loans in their name.
The reason why credit freezes are so important and useful to consumers is that it offers you protections because often thieves will look to open a new credit account using stolen personal information.
For instance, an identity thief may open a new credit account in your name and make a large purchase, then leave you to deal with the debt. What’s more, since you don’t know about the account, it can result in missed payments and collection accounts that can severely damage your credit.
How to freeze your credit
In order to freeze your credit, you need to contact each major credit bureau and have them individually freeze the credit report that they issue. Generally, they will ask you to provide your Social Security number, birthday, and any other information that can help confirm your identity.
Once your credit is frozen, it is secure until you lift the freeze. If you want to apply for a new credit card, you can temporarily unfreeze your credit.
How to do an Equifax credit freeze
If you want to put a freeze on your Equifax credit report, you can visit their website or contact them by phone at 800-349-9960. You’ll need to give your Social Security number, your address, and the state you live in. A PIN to unfreeze your account will be mailed to you.
To freeze your credit by mail you will need to include copies of documents that verify your name and address. And then mail it to:
Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
How to do an Experian credit freeze
You can freeze your credit by filling in their online form. This will also give you the opportunity to select your own PIN instead of being assigned one. You can also reach them by phone at 888-397-3743 (or 888-EXPERIAN).
And if you would prefer to mail in your documents to request an Experian security freeze, you would mail to:
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
How to do a TransUnion credit freeze
To freeze your TransUnion credit report, you can start by visiting the TransUnion credit freeze page or you can download and use their mobile app. If you would rather speak to a customer service representative to initiate your freeze call 888-909-8872.
If you prefer mailing in documents because it helps you keep track of all the necessary paperwork, mail it to:
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
When should you freeze your credit?
If you are not currently looking to open a new credit line or get a loan, it may be a wise decision to freeze your credit. Since freezing and unfreezing are free under federal law, we recommend consumers protect themselves from identity theft with this method. And since a credit freeze doesn’t affect your credit score, there are a few downsides.
Another example would be in the case of a data breach. Let’s say your bank was hacked, and they had a data breach that resulted in compromised consumer information, such as Social Security numbers.
This would be a case where you would want to put a freeze in place on your credit. Since you aren’t sure if your information is compromised, being proactive about freezing your credit can help you avoid the hassle of dealing with fraudulent accounts.
What are the differences between a credit freeze, fraud alert, and credit lock?
Credit freezes, fraud alerts, and credit locks can all help prevent someone from trying to use your personal information fraudulently. Equifax and TransUnion will let you put a credit freeze or a credit lock on your reports, whereas Experian will let you do both at the same time. However, if you were to unfreeze your credit, your credit lock would still be in effect, and the reverse is true.
So, sift through your options and see which best fits your situation.
Even though credit freezes are a handy tool to help defend against identity theft, you may still be susceptible to fraudulent charges on an existing credit account if it has already been compromised. And often times, by the time a victim has realized their information has been compromised, the thief has already made out with extreme purchases or hefty fund transfers.
For that reason, it is in best practice to keep a close eye on your account activity to ensure you detect any suspicious activity instantaneously.
Another option that may even be considered a less severe option to credit freezes and locks is the fraud alert. Fraud alerts allow lenders to view your credit file but will require identity verification on your part before any credit application can be processed or a new account can be opened in your name.
These are the three types of fraud alerts:
- Initial fraud alert: Initial fraud alerts, also known as initial or temporary alerts, can be set up by anyone at any time. If you suspect your personal information may have been compromised or if you have lost a credit card, you would put a fraud alert in place. These generally last a year but can be extended.
- Extended fraud alert: If you are a victim of identity theft, you would consider this option as it lasts seven years. Note that you will have to submit a fraud report that has also been given to a law enforcement agency.
- Active duty alert: This is an alert used for Service Members who are on active duty away from home and want to keep their credit from being accessed or misused. Active duty alerts, like temporary fraud alerts, last a year and can be extended on a yearly basis.
Credit locks differ from freezes by not being governed by federal law. However, its biggest selling point is convenience. You can enable or disable them instantly online or via a smartphone app with no delays when locking your credit file, unlike a credit freeze.
All three credit bureaus offer credit lock products:
Equifax’s lock product is called “Lock & Alert.” It is currently free, and the company says they will keep it free for life. The bonus is that you do not have to sign away your option to sue, as the terms of service do not include a class action lawsuit waiver or an arbitration clause.
Experian’s credit lock service is bundled with other services, so you’ll have to shop around for the best option for you. The most affordable bundle we came across was the “IdentityWorks Plus” option at $9.99 a month.
This bundle allows you to lock your credit, gives you identity theft insurance and alerts should your information change on your credit report with each of the three individual credit bureaus. However, the terms and services do include both an arbitration clause and a class action waiver.
TransUnion gives you the option to lock and unlock your credit along with a few added features. However, just like the Experian credit lock product’s terms and services, TransUnion’s “TrueIdentity” requires the acknowledgment and signing of a class action waiver as well as an arbitration clause. The TrueIdentity service is free.
How to unfreeze or lift a freeze from your credit
To unfreeze your credit, simply visit each individual credit bureau’s website and enter the PIN or password you chose or were assigned to lift the freeze. You can also unfreeze your credit either by phone or via postal mail if you provide them with the proper documentation and PIN.
If you are applying for credit and do not wish to unfreeze all your accounts, you can ask your creditor which credit bureau they will be using to check your credit file and lift the freeze from that individual credit bureau.
Alternatively, if you are applying for a few loans and putting in several applications in a short amount of time, you may want to consider a temporary lift that allows creditors to check your file for a set length of time before the freeze is restored. Just be aware that opening multiple accounts in a short time could adversely affect your credit score.
Article last modified on October 26, 2021. Published by Debt.com, LLC