Credit freeze or credit report freeze is one of the best ways to keep criminals at bay from gaining access your credit without your approval. Process to freeze your credit is absolutely free for everyone in the United States. In fact, recently a new law has been presented on September 21, 2018. This law enables users to freeze, and unfreeze their credit report without any cost.
In the past, consumers were also able to freeze their credit files, however, each state has its own laws and charges for every time a credit report is thawed or frozen – which made the process inconvenient and costly.
What is a credit freeze?
The goal of a credit freeze, also called as security freeze, is to prevent identity theft and fraud. As soon as customer puts a freeze on its credit, they lock-up their credit details swiftly without even spending a penny, and hence make it unavailable. That credit report can only be made accessible if you lift the freeze with use of personal identification number (PIN).
Even, a security freeze also makes it impossible for potential lenders to view your credit files. And, you might need to lift this restricted access whenever you need to provide credit access to lenders and to any other company. For instance, there are many insurance companies, credit card providers, mobile phone providers, and potential employers who would ask to view your files for background investigation.
When should I freeze my credit?
- If you have a past history of being a victim of identity theft, then you must take some action to secure your credit files to avoid it happen again. Even, if it didn’t occur, there is no harm to anyone if you would block access to your credit report. In fact, you have all the right to do it. You must consider protecting your sensitive data if any of this happens to you:
- When you get any debt collection notices at your home under your name or someone else’s name.
- When you find surprisingly new business inquiries on your credit report from companies that you didn’t provide approval.
- When a bank send alerts to your existing account about a fraud incident.
- When you think, but are not sure, that your data have been breached.
How to freeze credit report?
In the United States, there are three major credit bureaus that help consumers save and update the credit histories. Once every 12 months, they will provide users a free copy of their credit report, if requested.
- Equifax: Call 800-685-1111 or go online. Check out our step-by-step Equifax credit freeze guide.
- Experian: Call 888 397 3742 or go online. Here’s a detailed step-by-step on a credit freeze with Experian.
- TransUnion: Call 888-909-8872 or go online. You can also read our TransUnion credit freeze guide.
To request freezing your credit report at their sites, you will be required to submit specific details including your name, Social Security number, address, date of birth and so on. Now each of the agencies will offer a unique a PIN or password to you. Keep the given personal identification number safely because this will help you to free the restricted access of your credit files whenever you want to.
How do I lift a freeze?
Once you freeze the credit report, nobody can access your data unless you lift the security freeze or cancel it permanently. If you want to lift the freeze, you’ll need to send unlocking request to credit bureaus. It can be done in many ways – via online sites, mail and phone.
If a written request is done through mail, bureau will take no longer than 3 business days to unfreeze your credit report. However, if the request is made via online or using phone request, it will take just an hour to remove the restricted access.
Now, if you need to apply for credit, for a loan or even a job hunt, creditor will ask you about access of files. In such case, you can employ a temporary lifting of security freeze.
Also, it would be better if you can identify which one credit bureau the company will choose to contact. By knowing this, you will unfreeze your credit only with that specific bureau. And if not, you will be needed to get in touch with all three credit bureaus to unfreeze your credit report.
Does a credit freeze affect my credit score?
No. A credit freeze doesn’t hurt or benefit your credit score. Here’s what a credit freeze doesn’t do:
- Blocks you from getting access to free annual credit files.
- If you’re financially active, a frozen credit report might bother you. Let’s say you want to apply for a job or want to buy a new apartment, getting yourself registered for a cellular service, or buying insurance and more. You cannot accomplish any of these activities, unless you thaw out your frozen credit for a limited time period. Good thing is, freeze or unfreeze; it costs nothing at your end. And when you’re done, you can resume back to credit freeze services.
- It doesn’t add a protection layer against savvy criminals from making charges to accounts already in use. Still, you might need to consider monitoring your bank statements to avoid any fraudulent transactions.
Who can access my frozen credit report?
When you put restricted access to your files, there are certain entities that can still access your credit files. Your report can be viewed for many reasons such as:
- You have access to view your own credit file.
- Existing creditors can view it.
- Landlord or rental agency can access your secure data for background investigation.
- Phone and utility companies.
- Debt collection agencies can use it who is trying to collect payments.
- Child support agencies can have access in order to determine the child support.
- Prescreening offer of credit.
- Underwriting insurance.
- For employment purpose or potential employers can view it after your granted permission.
- Government agencies may access it acting in response to a court order or a search warrant.
According to Fair Credit Reporting Act, the national major credit bureaus, like Experian, must comply to save customer’s credit history, like who accessed it, and when. The credit bureau should maintain a record of every action. This way, any strange inquiries (out of the blue) can show signs of attempted fraud or identity theft.
What makes a Credit Freeze and a Fraud Alert different?
You place a security freeze to lock down your credit. However, a fraud alert enables creditors to receive copy of your credit report simply after verification steps. Fraud alerts can stop someone from opening new credit accounts using your name. But, they might not be able to protect the misuse of your accounts that are already in use. This is why you must supervise all your bank or insurance statements to watch out for any unauthorized transaction.
Three types of fraud alerts are available:
If you haven’t been a victim, yet want to play safe, putting this fraud alert on your credit will restrict your files for one year. No one can have access to it unless they verify their identity. Placing a fraud alert is a fair step to take if you have lost your social security card, and wallet, or if you doubt about leakage of any of your financial details.
Extended Fraud Alert
This will protect your credit from being viewed for a full seven years. Victims of identity theft can request such an extended fraud alert.
Active Duty Military Alert
For military personnel, this fraud alert allows them to freeze their credit during deployment period. Lock is placed for one year and can be updated as per duration of deployment. Also, credit bureaus will stop you granting pre-screened credit card offers for two years, or more. To get started with a fraud alert, you will need to contact one of the nationwide credit bureaus. It is all free. As part of the process, the bureau you initiated with must tell the other two. This way, all three will put an alert on your credit report.
If you’re concerned about identity theft or someone gaining access to your data without your permission, you must then consider placing a credit freeze on your file. It can offer you a peace of mind that you want to have. A Credit file prevents everyone from accessing your credit report to open new accounts. In this digital age, your sensitive data needs a security or else your credit will be eventually hacked. Good thing is, it is free of cost.
Often, the process of freezing your credit can be a time consuming as you must go to each of all three major credit bureaus. And, you need to open accounts with two of them, namely Equifax and TransUnion, in case you want to lift the freeze. You would also require PINs or related information to unlock the files by requesting through phone or mail.
So, you put a security freeze on your credit and now you’re secured! Well, It’s not 100% confirmed that you won’t face any unexpected enquiries. You are still vulnerable to credit fraud and the like that involves your social security number.
Whether you put a credit freeze or not, you can still discover misuse of existing accounts. Therefore, it is vital to spot unauthorized activity by keeping a close eye on your accounts.