If you find yourself a victim of identity theft, start taking immediate recovery steps to get your life back on track. One of the most important steps in this process is often getting a credit freeze (sometimes known as a security freeze). If an identity thief files for a credit application, a freeze will prevent lenders from accessing your credit report. Most creditors will not extend credit to an applicant if they cannot see his or her file. Read on to determine if a credit freeze makes sense for you and learn how to get one.
Is a Credit Freeze Right for You?
You should consider getting a credit freeze if:
● You’re a victim of identity theft, or concerned you might become one.
● You do not have a need to apply for new credit in the coming months, i.e., you’re not in the process of buying a house or opening a new credit card. (If you need to open a new line of credit while your credit is frozen, you can temporarily lift the freeze to do so. More on that below.)
● You want full control when it comes to who can access your credit report.
Note that a credit freeze does not affect your credit score, nor your right to one free credit report per year. It also won’t affect your existing lines of credit; you can continue to use your credit cards like normal.
How To Get a Credit Freeze
Start by contacting each of the three credit reporting companies (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax) separately to place a freeze. You may have to pay a small fee to place a freeze, depending on your state and whether or not you’ve been a confirmed victim of identity theft. TransUnion offers an easy online form that will help you obtain a credit freeze. The form requires the following:
● Full name
● Social Security number
● Date of birth
● Current address and past addresses for the last two years
● Copy of government-issued identification
● Copy of a utility bill or bank statement for proof of address.
After processing your credit freeze, each credit reporting company will send a confirmation letter with a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password.
In most states, a credit freeze remains in place indefinitely until you remove it. There’s also an option to temporarily lift it if you need to apply for credit yourself. To lift it temporarily, you can fill out an online form, call, or mail in a request. You’ll need your PIN to do so. According to the FTC, a credit reporting company must lift a freeze no more than three business days after processing your temporary lift request. There may be a small fee associated with temporarily lifting a freeze, but it varies from state to state.
Requesting a Credit Freeze for a Dependent
Sometimes identity thieves target minors and use their personal information to open credit cards, apply for loans, and more. Some parents think that placing a freeze on a child’s credit report will prevent identity theft for their dependents. However, it’s not so simple.
Before placing a credit freeze for a dependent, you’ll have to first see if your child has a credit report. (If he or she doesn’t have a credit report, there will be nothing to freeze.) If your child has been added as an authorized user or joint account holder, he or she may have a legitimate credit history.
If you suspect your child has been a victim of identity theft, call each of the credit reporting companies and ask for a copy of your child’s credit report, if it exists. Scan it to ensure that it has the proper birth date and transactional history.
If you do find evidence of fraudulent activity, you can take steps to rectify the matter. Each of the three credit reporting companies have different requirements for freezing a child’s credit report (and to make matters more confusing, laws regarding a minor’s credit history vary from state to state). With this in mind, reach out to the credit reporting companies individually:
● TransUnion Child Identity Theft Inquiry
● Experian Security Freeze Center
● Equifax Child Identity Theft Instructions
What’s an Extended Fraud Alert?
An initial fraud alert is less drastic than a credit freeze — it simply puts an alert out that you are concerned about becoming a victim of identity theft. If someone makes a credit request, the credit reporting company must call you to verify that you are indeed the person making the credit request. It’s important to note that a fraud alert can prevent someone from opening a new line of credit in your name, but it may not catch an identity thief who is misusing your existing accounts. Be sure to continue monitoring your bank and insurance statements, too.
If you place a fraud alert with one credit bureau, they have to report it to the other two. An initial fraud alert lasts up to 90 days and grants you a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit reporting companies.
Extended fraud alerts, on the other hand, are a bigger deal. They last seven years and are only for victims of identity theft. In order to file one, you must provide a copy of your Identity Theft Report. If you place the alert with one credit reporting company, they will notify the other two. An extended fraud alert grants you two free credit reports at all three credit bureaus within the first year.