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What You Need to Know About Credit Freezing

As data breaches become more frequent, it is important consumers are aware of the need to protect their financial information. When your private, personal information is exposed in a data breach, it increases the potential for identity thieves to steal your financial identity and open new accounts without your knowledge. Credit freezing is one way to protect yourself. Let’s explore your options and the pros and cons of freezing your credit.

What is Credit Freezing?

Credit freezing, also known as a security freeze, restricts access to your credit report. This is useful because it adds a layer of protection, making it more difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in your name. Since most creditors would ask for your credit report before approving an account, without access, the identity thieves cannot open an account. Activating a credit freeze will not impact your credit score.

How Do I Freeze My Credit?

Credit freezes for all three bureaus are free and can be done by contacting Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You’ll have to provide your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. This is to keep the credit freeze process safe and make sure the right person is freezing the credit report. Many bureaus give a PIN to each person to provide when they want to lift the freeze. Protocol for the use of that pin depends on the policy of each bureau; see details and contact information below to confirm information requirements.

Equifax
800-685-1111

Experian
888-397-3742

Transunion
888-909-8872

How Do I Unfreeze My Credit?

Your credit report will remain frozen until you decide to unfreeze it. You can temporarily lift it or unfreeze it completely. If you request to unfreeze credit online or over the phone, the bureaus must unfreeze it within an hour. If you request by mail, the freeze must be lifted within three days after receiving the notice in the mail. Some bureaus need your PIN to unfreeze your account on the phone, while some may need it online as well. If you are temporarily lifting your freeze for credit or a job, you may be able to find out which bureau the request for your credit goes to. If you do this, then you can ask only that bureau to unfreeze your credit report. If you are not sure which bureau the request will go to, then you will have to contact all three.

Other Ways to Protect Your Credit: Credit Lock and Fraud Alert

Credit Freeze vs. Credit Lock

What is a credit lock? A credit lock is similar to a credit freeze, however, there is one key difference. While a credit lock restricts most lenders’ access to your credit report, unlike a credit freeze, you are able to unlock your credit report at any time from a computer or mobile device.

Credit Freeze vs. Fraud Alert

If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft or maybe your wallet, social security card or other financial and account information were lost or stolen, you can place a free, fraud alert notice on your credit report. What is a fraud alert? This alert encourages companies who extend credit to contact you to confirm your identity prior to completing and approving a request for credit. The alert lasts for one year and you can renew it annually. You can place a fraud alert by asking one of the three nationwide credit bureaus. The bureau you contact must place the alert on your credit report and tell the other two credit bureaus to do so as well.

Should I Freeze My Credit?

Unfortunately, security breaches happen. According to security experts, if your information is compromised, a credit freeze is one of the best options for keeping your credit from being used. While fraud alerts are helpful and important to monitoring your information, a fraud alert tells you when your account may have been compromised while credit freezing automatically prevents any breach from happening.

For more tips on keeping your information safe, visit our Cybersecurity page.

Resources:

FTC Website

Equifax

Experian

Transunion

This publication does not constitute legal, accounting or other professional advice. Although it is intended to be accurate, neither the publisher nor any other party assumes liability for loss or damage due to reliance on this material. Websites not belonging to this organization are provided for information only. No endorsement is implied.

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