How to freeze your credit
No matter how much you guard your personal financial information, outside forces still find a way to compromise your credit, such as in the recent hacks on major retailers. If you become a victim of identity theft, consider placing a security freeze on your accounts to protect yourself.
When you freeze your credit, nobody but you can access your credit report with the three major reporting agencies. It won’t affect your credit score, and you can get the freeze lifted whenever you request it.
This provides maximum protection, since nobody can open new accounts in your name. But it also impedes your ability to establish new accounts while the freeze is in place, such as establishing utility service, applying for a job, renting a home or seeking new credit, and it doesn’t prevent misuse of your existing credit accounts.
Freezing credit also makes sense if you fear you’ve been the victim of identity theft and you’d like to lock down your information for a certain period of time.
Another option involves placing a fraud alert on your accounts, which requires credit reporting bureaus to contact you directly and verify your identity before releasing credit information to lenders. It doesn’t provide as potent a defense as a freeze, but it creates less inconvenience.
To freeze your file, contact all three credit reporting bureaus — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. All three provide options to freeze via the Internet, phone or by mail. You’ll need to supply your name, Social Security number, a copy of a valid government-issued identification card, a complete list of addresses for the past two years, and a utility bill or bank statement.
Depending on which state you live in, you may be asked to pay a small fee, usually no more than $10. In many states, the credit reporting bureaus are required by law to provide a freeze at no charge to identity theft victims who can provide proof of a police report or law enforcement complaint about the theft. Ask your state attorney general’s office for details about regulations, fees and other relevant information.
Several state attorneys general recommend doing it by certified mail and delivering it by hand to a local post office, or placing it in a secured post office drop box, as you’re sending sensitive, personal information and your house mailbox isn’t secure.
You’ll receive a personal identification number that you’ll need to keep handy in case you want to remove or temporarily thaw the freeze. Keep copies of all documentation and record the dates that you make calls or send letters to law enforcement authorities, agencies or lending entities.
Afterward, you can save time during any transaction requiring a credit check by notifying the reporting bureaus online, by phone or in writing to lift the freeze. You can ask them to lift it completely, only for a certain creditor, or for a specified period of time. The freeze may automatically end after a set time period, often seven years. However, the length varies by state, so check your state laws to determine how long it lasts.
Sources: Experian, TransUnion, Equifax, Federal Trade Commission, Indiana Attorney General