How to freeze your credit and protect your finances
Growing concern about identity theft and data breaches has many people looking for ways to protect their financial information. In 2017, over 1,500 data breaches occurred, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. Credit freezes, also known as security freezes, are one way to lock down your credit report and prevent fraudsters from opening accounts in your name. Here’s what you need to know about freezing your credit.
What is a credit freeze?
A credit freeze helps prevent identity thieves from opening new credit accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors require access to your financial data before issuing credit. But if you’ve frozen your credit, new creditors can’t look at your credit report without your permission. (Your current creditors, government agencies and debt collectors can still access your data.) A freeze doesn’t affect your credit score or prevent you from accessing your own credit report. Your accounts remain open, so it’s a good idea to keep monitoring your bank and credit accounts for signs of fraud.
Who should use a credit freeze?
Confirmed victims of identity theft may be the best candidates for a credit freeze. If your identity hasn’t been stolen but your information has been compromised—for example, if you lost your wallet—you may also want to consider a credit freeze.
If you’ve misplaced your Bank of America debit card, you can use the Mobile Banking app to temporarily lock your card, helping to prevent unauthorized transactions.
How do I freeze my credit?
To place a credit freeze, contact all three major credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax) with your request. It shouldn’t cost anything to place a freeze or to lift it for a credit check.
Keep in mind that if you plan to buy a house or a car or apply for a new job while you have a credit freeze in place, you may be charged a fee every time your freeze is lifted for a credit check.
Tip: If you want to protect your credit but don’t want to place a freeze, you can issue a fraud alert for free. A fraud alert doesn’t prevent creditors from accessing your credit report, but it tells them to verify your identity before issuing credit.
Lifting the freeze
Each credit bureau provides you with a PIN so you can authorize the release of your credit report when necessary. You can lift a freeze temporarily for a specific transaction by giving the creditor the PIN along with your application for credit, employment or housing. Be sure to explain that this PIN is required in order to access your credit report.
You can also lift the freeze for a specific time period by contacting the credit reporting agencies. But be careful: Depending on state law, you may be charged a fee each time your freeze is lifted. To end your freeze permanently, you need to submit a request to the three credit bureaus. In many states, the freeze remains until you request to remove it, but some states remove the freeze automatically after seven years.