Also known as a security freeze, this tool lets you restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t see your file, they may not extend the credit. Read on to learn the answers to the most commonly asked questions about a credit freeze.
Does a Credit Freeze Affect My Credit Score?
No. A credit freeze does not affect your credit score. A credit freeze also does not:
- Prevent you from getting your free annual credit report.
- Keep you from opening a new account, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance. But if you’re doing any of these, you’ll need to lift the freeze temporarily, either for a specific time or for a specific party, say, a potential landlord or employer. The cost and lead times to lift a freeze vary, so it’s best to check with the credit reporting company in advance.
- Prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. You still need to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.
Can Anyone See My Credit Report if it’s Frozen?
Certain entities still will have access to it. Your report can be released to your existing creditors or to debt collectors acting on their behalf. Government agencies may also have access in response to a court or administrative order, a subpoena, or a search warrant.
How Do I Place a Freeze On My Credit Reports?
Contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies:
- Equifax: 1-800-349-9960 | www.equifax.com
- Experian: 1‑888‑397‑3742 | www.experian.com
- TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872 | www.transunion.com
You’ll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, and other personal information. Fees vary based on where you live, but commonly range from $5 to $10. After receiving your freeze request, each credit reporting company will send you a confirmation letter containing a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you choose to lift the freeze.
Is There More Than One Kind of Alert?
There are three types of fraud alerts available. To place a fraud alert on your credit reports, contact one of the nationwide credit reporting companies (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion). You must provide proof of your identity, and the company you call must tell the other credit reporting companies to place an alert on their versions of your report. Be sure the credit reporting companies have your current contact information so they can get in touch with you:
- Initial Fraud Alert: If you’re concerned about identity theft, but haven’t yet become a victim, this fraud alert will protect your credit from unverified access for at least 90 days. You may want to place a fraud alert on your file if your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial or account information are lost or stolen. An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit, so it may try to contact you. The initial alert stays on your report for at least 90 days, and you can renew it after that period. It also allows you to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies.
- Extended Fraud Alert: For victims of identity theft, an extended fraud alert will protect your credit for seven years. This requires that you file a police report.
- Active Military Alert: For those in the military who want to protect their credit while deployed, this fraud alert lasts for one year.
How Much Does it Cost?
Nothing — a fraud alert is free.