Freezing your credit reports can help protect you against identity theft. It prevents criminals from opening new credit accounts in your name.
To freeze your credit, you need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Here are the phone numbers and steps to freeze your credit with each bureau:
- Call the Equifax phone number above.
- Press 2 for the security freeze option.
- You‘ll need to provide personal information like your full name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number to verify your identity.
- Choose a 6-digit PIN number for Equifax to use when you want to temporarily lift the freeze.
- Equifax will provide a confirmation number – be sure to write this down.
- Call the Experian phone number above.
- Press 1 for the security freeze option.
- You‘ll go through identity verification by providing personal information.
- Create a 6-8 digit PIN number.
- Experian will give you a confirmation number – write this down.
- Call the TransUnion phone number above.
- Press 3 for the security freeze option.
- Verify your identity by providing your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number.
- Create a 6-digit PIN number.
- TransUnion will provide a confirmation number – be sure to record this.
Once you complete these steps, a credit freeze will be placed with each credit bureau. This prevents any new credit accounts from being opened in your name.
Cost to Freeze Credit
Freezing and unfreezing your credit is free as of September 2018. This is thanks to a law passed by Congress. Before this, fees were typically $3-10 per freeze/unfreeze at each bureau.
Timing to Take Effect
When you request a credit freeze, it must take effect within 1 business day. This quick timing helps prevent criminals from sneaking in applications before the freeze takes hold.
If you need to lift the freeze temporarily, the credit bureaus must lift it within 1 hour for online or phone requests. Requests made by mail still may take up to 3 business days.
Other Ways to Request Credit Freeze
In addition to phone, you can request a credit freeze online or by mail with each bureau.
Here are those contact points:
Mail: Equifax Security Freeze, PO Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348
Mail: Experian Security Freeze, PO Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
Mail: TransUnion LLC, PO Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016
Duration of Credit Freeze
A credit freeze lasts until you remove it. There is no expiration date. It will stay in place indefinitely until you request the credit bureaus to lift it.
You have complete control over when the freeze is removed. You‘ll need to provide the PIN number you created when initiating the freeze originally.
Why Freeze Your Credit?
Freezing your credit is one of the best protections against identity theft. Here are a few key reasons why it‘s recommended:
Prevents new accounts opened in your name – With a freeze in place, lenders cannot access your credit report. This stops criminals from opening new credit cards or loans in your name.
Free service – After new laws, credit freezes now have no charge to place or lift them. This removes a previous barrier of fees.
Won‘t impact your credit score – A credit freeze has no effect on your credit score or ability to receive loans/credit when unfrozen. It just locks down access.
Extra protection for sensitive groups – Children, elderly, and identity theft victims are especially vulnerable. A freeze provides an extra shield against fraud.
Peace of mind – Knowing your credit is locked down can give you great peace of mind. You don‘t have to monitor credit constantly to try to catch identity thieves.
Potential Downsides to Freezing Credit
While credit freezes provide excellent protection, there are a few potential inconveniences:
Must unfreeze to open new credit – You will not be able to open any new credit accounts until you lift the freeze temporarily with each bureau.
Extra steps for lenders to verify identity – Even with a lift, lenders may have to take extra steps to authenticate you are the applicant. This could mean delaying new credit.
May still be vulnerable to existing account fraud – A freeze only prevents new accounts. Criminals may still make fraudulent charges on your existing credit cards or bank accounts.
Must remember PIN – To lift a freeze, you will need to provide the PIN created when you froze your credit originally. Be sure to keep this in a secure place.
Delay for new cell phone service – Most cell providers run credit checks before opening new service. A freeze may slow this process down until unlocked.
Alternatives to Freezing Credit
If you decide against freezing your credit, there are some other options to help protect against identity theft:
Fraud alert – You can place a 1-year fraud alert on your credit. This asks creditors to verify your identity. The alert is free and does not block access to credit reports.
Credit lock – A credit lock allows you to quickly lock and unlock access to your credit reports. But this typically comes with a monthly fee after an initial trial period.
Credit monitoring – Credit monitoring services notify you of any changes to your credit reports. But they cannot actually prevent fraud from happening in the first place. There is usually a monthly fee.
Manage existing accounts – Review bank and credit card statements regularly for unauthorized activity. Opt-in for account alerts. Update passwords and security questions frequently.
Protect sensitive information – Shred documents with personal information before disposal. Don‘t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Be cautious of public WiFi and give out Social Security number sparingly.
How to Check for Existing Identity Theft
To monitor for any current identity theft, check your credit reports frequently. Here are some signs to look for:
- New credit accounts you did not open
- Inquiries from creditors you don‘t recognize
- Address or name changes you did not make
- Unfamiliar account balances or collections notices
You can obtain a free copy of your credit report from each bureau every 12 months from the government site www.annualcreditreport.com. Spacing these requests out allows you to check every 4 months or so.
Monitor bank and credit card statements closely as well. Look for any charges you don‘t recognize.
If you see signs of identity theft, report it immediately to the creditors involved. File a report with your local police department. You‘ll also want to submit an identity theft report to the FTC and follow steps in their recovery plan.
Can Someone Open a Credit Card Without Your SSN?
For someone to open a new credit card or loan under your name, they typically need access to your Social Security number. The SSN allows them to access your credit reports and provides proof of identity.
However, some store credit cards or gas cards are easier to open fraudulently. The criminal may only need identifying information like your name, address and date of birth if they are pretending to be you in-person with an employee. The key elements they need are enough details to verify your identity.
The risks are much greater if they can get your SSN though. With this, they can open revolving lines of credit that have higher balances and spending power. Knowledge of your SSN also enables them to commit employment fraud, tax fraud, or Social Security benefit fraud that have significant financial impacts.
Protecting Your Social Security Number
Here are some tips to help safeguard your SSN:
Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Keep it locked securely at home instead.
Do not give out your SSN unless completely necessary. Examples are for tax forms, banking purposes, or background checks only.
Check your annual Social Security statement for accuracy. You can access it via their website.
Use complex passwords and multi-factor authentication for accounts with sensitive personal information.
Enroll in IRS IP PIN program if concerned about tax fraud with your SSN. This provides added identity verification for filers.
Request a credit freeze to restrict access to your credit reports where SSN is listed.
Shred documents with SSN before disposing of them.
Keep a close eye out for any mail/email phishing attempts trying to obtain your SSN fraudulently. Definitely do not comply with these.
Checking for Existing Accounts Opened in Your Name
To check for any unauthorized accounts that may be opened in your name already, the first step is obtaining copies of your credit reports. You can use the AnnualCreditReport.com website to request free reports from each bureau every 12 months.
Review all accounts listed there closely. Note any that you don‘t recognize at all. Some signs of identity theft are:
- Brand new credit card accounts you didn‘t open
- Recent inquiries from lenders you didn‘t contact
- New addresses or aliases showing you‘re unfamiliar with
- Unfamiliar loan amounts and balances
Also review your current financial statements frequently:
- Check bank and credit card statements for odd charges.
- Look for new accounts or loans showing up you didn‘t initiate.
- Watch for bills that stop arriving (indicating address change).
You can also contact the Social Security Administration. Have them check for any work history being reported under your SSN that is fraudulent.
If you do uncover identity theft accounts, act quickly to report them as fraudulent. Close them immediately and dispute them with creditors. File an identity theft report with the FTC as well.
Is Freezing Credit Enough to Prevent All Identity Theft?
Freezing your credit prevents new accounts from being opened under your name with the three major credit bureaus. This eliminates a significant risk for identity theft.
However, freezing credit cannot stop all forms of identity theft and fraud. Other potential vulnerabilities include:
Existing account fraud – If thieves get account numbers for your credit cards or bank accounts, they could still make fraudulent charges. A credit freeze only prevents new accounts. Monitor existing accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
Medical identity theft – Criminals can use your identity to obtain medical services. This could impact your health insurance costs and medical records.
Criminal identity theft – Someone could impersonate you if arrested. This creates a criminal record under your identity.
Social Security fraud – The SSA tracks your reported wages for benefit purposes. Fraudulent wages can be reported affecting your eligibility.
Tax fraud – Your SSN is the key for tax fraud. Criminals can try filing tax returns in your name and claiming refunds.
Driver’s license fraud – Stolen identity details can be used to apply for fake driver’s licenses, which enable further identity crimes.
So while a credit freeze is very effective, you still need to take steps to monitor your existing accounts, check on your medical/tax records, and protect personal information. It is one layer of security, not an entire fraud protection solution.
Is a Credit Lock as Effective as a Credit Freeze?
A credit lock serves a similar function as a credit freeze. It lets you restrict access to your credit reports to prevent new accounts from being opened.
However, there are some key differences:
Cost – Credit freezes are free. But credit locks often come with monthly fees after an initial trial period expires.
Speed – Credit freezes take effect quickly by law (within 1 day). But some credit locks may have lag time.
Control – With freezes, you must lift it yourself when needed. Some credit locks remove this control by automatically lifting when you request your reports.
Security – Freezes require personal verification to lift. Some locks use less secure methods like text messages or emails to confirm identity.
So while you can potentially freeze your credit for free indefinitely, locks tend to cost money over time. They may also have some security disadvantages compared to the strict processes for credit freezes.
Overall, credit freezes tend to provide stronger fraud protection right now unless you need instant locking/unlocking capabilities. But credit locks are still an option, especially if you utilize those provided directly by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Is Lifelock‘s Credit Monitoring Service Worth It?
LifeLock is one of the most heavily marketed companies for credit monitoring and identity theft protection. They advertise services to monitor your credit and alert you to any suspicious activity.
Here are some pros and cons to their paid services:
Includes credit monitoring from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion
Alerts for credit inquiries, new accounts, address changes, etc
Can request credit bureaus to lock/unlock credit (extra cost for Equifax)
Includes dark web monitoring to detect compromised information
Provides Norton 360 antivirus software
LifeLock identity protection guarantee – they‘ll pay fees related to identity theft if you become a victim
Expensive monthly fees typically $9-29 depending on plan
Mixed reviews on effectiveness and customer service
Locking/unlocking credit is still manual process (unless pay more for Equifax autorenew)
Many competing services provide credit monitoring for lower cost
Overall, LifeLock is a reputable company for credit monitoring. But it is one of the more expensive options. Competitors may offer similar levels of service for less depending on your needs. And a free credit freeze could potentially provide better direct protection against new account fraud than their locks.
Closing Thoughts on Freezing Credit
Freezing your credit is a smart step to help detect and prevent identity theft. By locking down access to your credit reports, criminals cannot open new credit in your name. This can provide real peace of mind.
Just remember, you will have to briefly lift the freeze when you need to apply for your own new credit or cell phone service. And existing account fraud is still possible even with a freeze. So continue monitoring your accounts and personal records closely.
With new laws making freezes totally free to place and lift, there really is no reason not to freeze your credit. It is one of the most effective tools available to protect your identity and financial security.