There’s an old trick to curb impulse spending that involves freezing your credit card in a block of ice, then thawing it out before making a large purchase.
Well, we’re here to talk about a different kind of credit freeze — the kind you apply to prevent fraudsters from using your information to take out loans or credit cards in your name, then sticking you with the bill.
Whether or not you suspect your sensitive personal information may have been obtained by someone, a credit freeze is one of the most effective steps you can take to protect yourself.
Credit freezes (sometimes called security freezes) prohibit the three consumer credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) from disclosing the contents of your credit report to any person requesting the data. Without that credit file, lenders generally will not extend credit to you or — and here’s the important part — anyone claiming to be you.
Simply put, credit freezes help to prevent new credit accounts from being opened in your name.
Now, stop and think about how much of your personal information is in the cloud. And though companies go to painstaking lengths to protect information, hackers are sometimes successful in getting to that information. To be clear, a credit freeze won’t protect you from someone stealing your identity, but it will make it extremely difficult for them to use your stolen identity to open fraudulent credit accounts in your name (learn about deposit accounts like checking and savings here).
Why freezing your credit is a good move
- It’s free!
- Your credit score is NOT impacted
- It reduces the ability for someone to create a fraudulent credit account in your name
- You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your credit reports are secure
- It doesn’t affect your ability to use your existing loans, credit cards, etc.
- It’s easy to lift a credit freeze in the event you’re intentionally applying for new credit
- It’s a lot easier to freeze your credit than disputing credit report errors and getting fraudulent accounts closed
The pain points of freezing your credit
- You must contact each of the three credit reporting agencies individually to set up a credit freeze (more on how below)
- You won’t be able to open a new credit account (personal loan, mortgage, credit card, etc.) until you lift the freeze, again by contacting each agency individually
How to freeze your credit
You can contact the three credit bureaus at the numbers below, or if you prefer to do this online, you can set up a profile in just a few minutes, then activate the freeze with the click of a button.
- Equifax: Online or call 1-888-298-0045
- Experian: Online or call 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: Online or call 1-888-909-8872 or 1-800-916-8800
You may be required to set up a PIN to activate your freeze, as well as to lift it in the future. Be sure to keep this PIN in a safe place or use a password manager to store it for you.
A note about fraud alerts
You have the right to place an initial or extended “fraud alert” on a credit file at no cost. An initial fraud alert is a one-year alert that is placed on your credit file. When a business or creditor sees this alert on your credit file, they are required to take steps to verify the consumer’s identity before extending new credit. If you are a victim of identity theft, you are entitled to an extended fraud alert, which lasts seven years. If you’d like to place a fraud alert, please contact any one of the three major credit reporting bureaus listed above.
What about deposit accounts? Do they allow security alerts?
If you’re wondering if you can and should set a security alert or freeze on your checking and savings accounts, the answer is yes! Learn more about that here.
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