How To Freeze Your Credit Today
With each passing day, it seems that the amount of emails you receive regarding company data breaches increases.
This is both frustrating and concerning because your personal information is exposed to people of ill intent through no fault of your own.
Criminals can use this information to steal your identity and ruin your credit score.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent malevolent individuals from marking up your credit with their grubby hands.
One of the quickest actions you can take is to freeze your credit.
But before we tell you how, let’s go over what a credit freeze is.
What Is A Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze is a security measure you can take to restrict external access to your credit report.
It prevents creditors from accessing your credit history.
Therefore, it also prevents thieves from opening new credit accounts in your name since new creditors have to check your credit history when you request new credit.
Although similar to a credit lock (which is often used interchangeably with credit freeze), there is one key difference.
Credit freezes are 100% free.
On the other hand, credit locks tend to cost money after a free trial period.
So why would anyone choose a credit lock over a credit freeze?
Once you lock your credit, you can unlock it instantly from anywhere.
As for credit freezes, they take a bit longer.
If you unfreeze by mail, it takes a few days.
But if you do it online or by phone, it could take no longer than an hour.
But there’s another advantage to freezing your credit over locking your credit:
Credit freezes have recently become completely free (as of September 21, 2018 if you’re curious) at all credit bureaus due to increasing public concern over privacy.
Oh, we should mention that credit freezes doesn’t shut EVERYONE out from your credit report as some people have a legitimate need for that information.
In fact, it really only shuts out new creditors.
Some entities that can access a frozen report include
- Current creditors
- Government agencies/courts (under special circumstances)
- Landlords (when you’re applying for rent)
- Employers that run credit checks
- Insurance companies
- You (of course)
Why Should You Freeze Your Credit?
You should consider freezing your credit when you believe your personal information has been compromised or your identity has been stolen.
Again, this will deter criminals from opening new credit accounts in your name since creditors won’t be able to access your report.
But how does your personal information become compromised?
Well, as we said earlier, it seems like company safeguards for your personal information are dropping left and right in what’s known as a data breach.
When data breaches occur, your sensitive information becomes available to the would-be criminals that instigated the data breach in the first place.
Remember when you got an email from Equifax apologizing for allowing your data to be exposed to the world?
Stuff like that is why they give you credit freezes.
Which leads us to the 2nd reason you should freeze your credit…
This occurs when someone gains access to your sensitive information such as a Social Security number.
Once they have this info, they are no longer “them”. In the eyes of creditors, they are “you”.
And so, they might be inclined to start living a luxury lifestyle.
New houses, fancy cars, shopping sprees, and lavish vacation all on your dime.
And even if you do manage to catch the thieves and bring them to justice, it could take weeks to clean up the mess they left on your credit.
Now you might be thinking “psh, that’ll never happen to me!”
Well, The Harris Poll found that nearly 15 million Americans were victims of identity theft back in 2017.
That’s around 5% of United State’s 2017 population.
In other words, it COULD happen to you.
And if it has happened to you, freeze your credit this instant. Thieves could be looking in to some of the aforemention luxuries this very second!
Why SHOULDN’T You Freeze Your Credit?
Now, you should only freeze your credit in either of these dire circumstances.
If you simply want to add some protective measures to your credit information, a credit freeze might be going overboard.
There are few reasons why you might not want to freeze your credit if you’re not in danger of theft or compromised information.
Freezing your credit takes a lot of time because you have to contact the 3 credit bureaus and freeze your credit with each of them individually.
The same process is required once you want to unfreeze your credit.
Makes Getting New Credit Difficult
No, freezing your credit isn’t a negative in the eyes of creditors. You won’t be docked any points on your credit score if you decide to freeze your credit.
But putting a freeze on your credit can greatly increase the difficulty of getting new credit.
If you wanted to open a new credit card, you wouldn’t just be able to apply; you’d have to unfreeze your account at the three bureaus, await approval for your new card, then refreeze your credit once approved.
You Current Accounts Aren’t Safe
Freezing your credit prevents criminals from opening new accounts in your name.
What it doesn’t do is prevent those criminals from using your current credit accounts.
Freezing your credit will do nothing to stop someone from racking up debt on your credit card if they’ve gained access to that information.
If you don’t think your information is in any immediate danger and just want some extra credit protection, it may be better to set a fraud alert.
All fraud alerts do is give you one or two more quick hoops to jump through when applying for new credit.
They’re very convenient, too: once you set a fraud alert with 1 bureau, they’ll inform the other bureaus.
That’s less work for you!
Not to mention that fraud alerts are completely free.
So if you just want to set a preventative measure on your account, a fraud alert may prove to be a better method than a credit freeze.
But if your information is involved in the latest corporate data breach, you may want to go with the full freeze.
How To Freeze Your Credit With Each Bureau
As we already mentioned, freezing your credit has recently become free at all 3 credit bureaus.
Still, freezing your credit takes a bit of work.
In order to completely freeze your credit, you’ll have to contact each of the three credit bureaus individually and request they freeze it.
Each bureau does credit freezes slightly differently.
Thankfully, however, they are all quite simple.
Experian provides an online “Freeze Center” dedicated solely to handling credit freeze issue.
In the Freeze Center, they give you 4 options:
- Add a security freeze – This is how you actually freeze your credit.
- Remove or life a security freeze – To stop a credit freeze when you’re all set.
- Retrieve my Personal Identification Number (PIN) – In case you can’t remember your PIN, as you need your PIN to both unfreeze your credit and to grant creditors access to your report.
- Grant a creditor one-time access to my credit file – In case your credit is frozen but you need a particular creditor to look at your report.
If you prefer to call them, their number is 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742).
Equifax provides you two phone numbers to call:
- 1-800-685-1111 – Experian’s automated phone line.
- 1-888-298-0045 – If you prefer to speak to a human.
As for freezing your credit online, you can go here.
To freeze your credit with Transunion, you can do one of two things:
- Call 1-888-909-8872
- Visit their site
Don’t Let Your Data Fall Into The Wrong Hands
Overall, freezing your credit is a huge step in the right direction if your data is involved in a data breach or you believe that your identity is stolen.
Avoid using it as a preventative measure as freezing and unfreezing your credit is a huge pain. Fraud alerts may serve you better in this case (or credit locks if you’re fine with shelling out a few bucks).
But even in the case of data breaches and identity theft, credit freezes may not be enough.
Remember, credit freezes prevent new accounts from being opened in your name; they do nothing about current accounts.
That means that if you didn’t catch the identity thieves before they could masquerade as you when applying for credit, you’ll need to close down the accounts they opened.
You may also need to dispute any fraudulent charges on accounts that YOU opened, because those thieves may have thought themselves to be clever by using your current credit.
So don’t blow off the next data breach; when it inevitably happens again, consider freezing your credit until everything is figured out.