If you’ve been a victim of identity theft and fraud, one of the steps you should take is to place a credit freeze on your credit files with the major credit bureaus: Equifax.
What is a Credit Freeze?
A freeze keeps potential creditors from being able to view your credit file. With a freeze in place, creditors must contact you and get your permission to access your file. It will be much more difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in your name. A freeze does not affect your current access to your credit file. And you can “thaw” or “unfreeze” your file temporarily during the period you specify, either by phone or online.
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Placing a credit freeze is the first step to protecting yourself against identity theft. Every time you freeze your credit, you should also get a copy of your credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can then check for unauthorized activity in all three of your files. You should also check your reports regularly to ensure no other signs of trouble.
How to Freeze Your Credit
Contacting the Credit Bureaus
Either you can call the credit bureaus or fill out an online form to place a freeze on your records.
Equifax: To place a freeze, you’ll need your Social Security number and the last four digits of your credit card. You can thaw your file by calling 800-685-1111 or, if you’re not in the United States, by visiting https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/, entering your information, and clicking on the “Thaw Your File” button.
Experian: To place a freeze, you’ll need your Social Security number and the last four digits of your credit card. You can thaw your file by calling 888-397-3742 from outside the United States or by visiting https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
TransUnion: To place a freeze, you’ll need your Social Security number, full name, date of birth, and the last four digits of your credit card. You can thaw your file by calling 888-909-8872 or visiting https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze
Receive Your Pin Code
Once you contact a credit bureau, it will send you a PIN (personal identification number) that you will use to “thaw” or “unfreeze” your file in the future. Keep this PIN in a safe place because you’ll need to refer to it if someone tries to thaw or freeze your file without your consent.
Manage Your Credit Freeze
You can check whether the freeze is in place, thaw your file and temporarily lift it by providing the appropriate PIN, or permanently remove a freeze via telephone or online.
If you choose to close an account frozen, however, you must first lift the freeze to complete the process.
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Unfreezing Your Credit
After you thaw a freeze, the bureau will send a “thaw request” to the creditor or collector who requested the freeze. When you receive this notice, call or visit the creditor or other company and explain why you want to “thaw” your report. The creditor will be required to send proof that it owns an account in your name with their full name and account number before the credit bureau will lift your freeze.
Benefits of Credit Freezes
Protect Your Identity
If you have been the victim of identity theft, placing a freeze is the first step to fighting back. A freeze can prevent criminals from using your Social Security number to open credit cards, loans, and other accounts in your name. If a thief tries to obtain credit in your name, the freeze will prevent access to your credit report. If you are having trouble with creditors and collectors that know your identity because of the freeze, notify them that you want only authorized creditors or collectors to contact you.
It Won’t Affect Your Credit Score.
You can freeze your credit report at any time, and the bureau will not lower your credit score. However, suppose you decide to temporarily lift a freeze and apply for an account in the future. In that case, your file may show errors until the bureau verifies that no unauthorized activity has occurred.
What Else Can You Do to Protect Your Account?
In addition to a credit freeze, you can take other steps to protect your accounts. For example:
Stay alert for signs of identity theft and fraud. Review your credit reports regularly. Consider placing a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit reports. Always read the fine print of applications, such as “terms and conditions,” before you sign anything or give out personal information.
The credit locks are another option. “Credit locks,” also known as “credit alerts” or “credit freezes,” put a temporary hold on your credit report to keep new creditors from accessing it. With a credit freeze, you must lift a temporary hold each time you want to open a new account or apply for credit. However, that isn’t the case with most credit locks. With these, you can temporarily lift them to unlock your report and then lock it again after you have checked the report for a new activity that might be unauthorized.
You can also sign up for credit monitoring services, where a private agency will watch your credit regularly for signs of trouble. Credit monitoring companies typically keep logs of all inquiries made to the bureaus and report new ones that aren’t from you or companies you have recently done business with. Some also check with local, state, and federal agencies such as the U.S. Postal Service, county clerk’s office, Department of Motor Vehicles, and local courts to ensure that no new information is recorded in your file without your consent.
Freezing your credit file is a relatively simple process that can provide you with great peace of mind. If you have been the victim of identity theft, freezing your credit file enables you to prevent new accounts from being opened in your name. Freezing also helps ensure that no one else can take out credit in your name – a boon for both consumers and businesses alike. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are the major players in the credit freeze market.