Having your identity stolen is no stroll along the beach. Victims of identity theft often suffer for months and even years after it occurs. Clearing your name takes time and effort—and sometimes money. It can seem like you’re doing time, even though you weren’t the one who committed the crime.
To prevent your identity from being stolen or further identity theft after your identity has already been stolen, you might consider freezing your credit report, a free service that all three major credit bureaus offer.
What Is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze, also known as a “security freeze,” locks your credit report, blocking all new inquiries. Since most banks require a credit check to process your application, an application for credit would likely be denied during a freeze. This makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open an account in your name.
Consider placing a security freeze on your credit report if any of the following applies to you.
- Your information has been exposed in a data breach.
- You’ve been a victim of identity theft.
- Your credit card number has been stolen.
- Your mail has been tampered with or stolen.
- You want to protect yourself from identity theft.
- Your credit monitoring service found your information on the dark web.
How Does a Credit Freeze Work?
While your security freeze is in place, new creditors and lenders can't request your credit report. Instead, when you're ready to apply for credit, you'll need to temporarily lift the security freeze to allow a credit pull. You may not know ahead of time which credit report the company will check, so unfreezing all three credit reports is best.
If you're requesting to lift the freeze online or over the phone, it will become effective within an hour. If you submit your request via mail, the freeze will be lifted within three business days of the bureau receiving your request. Credit bureaus are required to send you confirmation of the freeze within five business days of placing the freeze.
Freezing your credit report doesn't hurt your credit score or prevent you from accessing your free annual credit report. Your existing creditors will continue to be able to update your credit report with your latest account information.
However, the security freeze doesn’t keep everyone out of your credit file. Creditors and lenders that already have access to your accounts can access your credit report and score. Employers, insurance companies, and prospective landlords can still check your credit. Law enforcement agencies can also access your credit report and score despite a credit freeze.
How to Freeze Your Credit
You can freeze your credit report at all three major credit bureaus by contacting them individually. You'll provide some personal information and select a series of security questions or a PIN for lifting or replacing the freeze in the future.
Freezing your credit report online is the fastest way, and you can do this directly at each credit bureau's website:
- Equifax: 888-298-0045
- Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)
- TransUnion: 888-909-8872
By law, credit bureaus must implement your security freeze within one business day when you make the request online or by phone. Mailed requests to freeze your credit report must take effect no later than three business days after your request is received.
- Equifax Information Services LLC P.O. Box 105788 Atlanta, GA 30348-5788
- Experian Security Freeze P.O. Box 9554 Allen, TX 75013
- TransUnion P.O. Box 160 Woodlyn, PA 19094
Equifax provides a printable form you can use to request your security freeze. Experian requires the following information:
- Your full name, including your middle initial and any generational suffix (e.g., Jr., II)
- Complete current address and previous addresses for the past two years
- Date of birth (month, day, and year)
- Social Security number
- Proof of identification (e.g., a photocopy of your valid driver's license, passport, state ID, military ID, or birth certificate)
- Address verification (e.g., utility bill, cell phone bill, pay stub. Do not send a credit cards statement, magazine subscription, voided check, or lease agreement)
TransUnion requires you to send your name, address, and Social Security number. Also, you must provide a PIN you’ll use for your credit freeze.
The Bottom Line
A credit freeze can help curb identity theft. However, be aware that a credit report freeze doesn’t offer protection from all types of fraud. Thieves may be able to open accounts with businesses that don’t use a major credit bureau. They may also be able to commit other types of fraud like taking over a credit card or bank account or filing taxes in your name.
Businesses that you already have a relationship with will still be able to access your credit information, too, for credit reporting or raising your credit limit.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you unlock a credit freeze?
When you freeze your credit with any of the bureaus, you should receive a PIN number that provides you with access to your account. To unlock your credit freeze, you usually just need to call the bureau and provide your PIN number. You can also unfreeze your credit online or by mail.
How long does a credit freeze last?
A credit freeze typically lasts until you temporarily lift or permanently remove it. Some states mandate that a credit freeze automatically expires after seven years.
How much does it cost to freeze your credit?
Credit freezes have been free since September 21, 2018, when a new law mandated free consumer access due to the major Equifax credit breach.