A credit freeze is the most effective way to prevent certain types of identity theft.
When your credit report is frozen, lenders cannot view it in response to an application for new credit, so a criminal who tries to open a loan or credit card in your name is unlikely to succeed.
The case for protecting your identity is as strong as ever, given that the number of data breaches hit a record high in 2021, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
But many consumers are dragging their feet. Although more than three-fourths of respondents to an Identity Theft Resource Center survey said that 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 thawing a credit report is expensive (it’s free of charge).
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You don’t have to suffer ID theft to place a freeze. In fact, it is wise to freeze your reports before you become a victim. You’ll need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus.
You can reach 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, see kiplinger.com/kpf/freeze.)
You provide information such as your Social Security number, birth date and address, and the bureaus must freeze your reports within one business day of receiving your request by phone or online.
Depending on the credit bureau, you may receive a PIN that you’ll use to confirm your identity if you want to lift the freeze while you apply 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 by phone, but online, you can manage your freeze with a password-protected account. Equifax no longer requires a PIN; Instead, you use a password-protected account online or provide identity-verification information by phone.
The bureaus are required to lift a freeze within one hour of an online or phone request.
Kids are appealing targets for identity thieves because years may pass before anyone notices that someone has stolen a child’s identity. By law, you may freeze the credit of your children who are younger than 16. If the child has no credit record yet, the bureau will create an account and freeze it.
You must submit a written request to each bureau and include supporting documents, such as copies of your child’s birth certificate and your driver’s license. If you’re a conservator or guardian or you have the power of attorney for someone (say, an elderly relative), you can freeze his or her credit records, too.
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