A credit freeze is the most effective way to prevent certain types of identity theft.
When your credit report is frozen, lenders can’t see it in response to an application for new credit, so a criminal trying to open a loan or credit card in your name is unlikely to be successful.
The case for protecting your identity is stronger than ever, with the number of data breaches hitting a record high in 2021, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
But many consumers are dragging their feet. Although more than three-quarters of respondents to an Identity Theft Resource Center survey said they were familiar with credit freezes, only 29% had ever placed one.
Reasons they cited for not using a credit freeze included a lack of need for one and confusion or difficulty with the process. Some consumers also had misconceptions about freezes, with fears that a freeze would negatively affect their credit score (it doesn’t) and that freezing or unfreezing a credit report is expensive (it’s free).
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You do not have to experience identity theft to place a freeze. In fact, it is advisable to freeze your reports before you become a victim. You will need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus.
You can contact Equifax at (888) 298-0045 or equifax.com/freeze; Experian at (888) 397-3742 or experian.com/freeze; and TransUnion at (888) 909-8872 or transunion.com/freeze. (You can also freeze your reports by mail; for more information, visit kiplinger.com/kpf/freeze.)
You provide information such as your Social Security number, date of birth, and address, and the bureaus must freeze your reports within one business day of receiving your request over the phone or online.
Depending on the credit bureau, you may be given a PIN that it will use to confirm your identity if you want to lift the freeze while applying for a credit card or loan.
Experian requires a PIN to unfreeze your account. With TransUnion, you must provide a PIN to remove a freeze over the phone, but online you can manage your freeze with a password-protected account. Equifax no longer requires a PIN; instead, use a password-protected online account or provide identity verification information over the phone.
Offices are required to lift a freeze within an hour of a request online or by phone.
Children are attractive targets for identity thieves because it can be years before anyone realizes someone has stolen a child’s identity. By law, you can freeze the credit of your children under the age of 16. If the child does not yet have a credit history, the office will create an account and freeze it.
You must submit a written request to each office and include supporting documents, such as copies of your child’s birth certificate and your driver’s license. If you are a conservator or guardian or have power of attorney for someone (for example, an elderly relative), you can also freeze their credit records.
Visit Kiplinger.com for more information on this and other money-related topics.