Having your identity stolen can cost huge amounts of money and time to fix. If you suspect someone has somehow managed to access your personal information, protect your finances by requesting a credit freeze (also called a security freeze).
What Is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze is a form of identity theft protection. It keeps your credit reporting company from releasing your credit report to external entities.
Most reputable creditors require a credit report check before opening a new account. So with a security freeze in place, anyone trying to use your personal information to open a new credit account will not be able to do so.
The only organizations who'd still have access to your credit report during a credit freeze include:
- Companies you're already enrolled or in debt with (before your identity was stolen).
- Government agencies for the purpose of court cases or warrants.
NOTE: Requesting a credit freeze does not affect your credit score.
Why to Request a Credit Freeze
Ordering a security freeze can save you a lot of money and give you peace of mind. If an identity thief manages to open up credit card accounts in your name, you'll end up having to deal with their expenses—and even worse, having to fix a bad credit score.
Identity theft victims are often unaware of this type of credit card fraud because it is easy for thieves to do it without detection.
You'll only find out someone else has been using credit cards in your name when your credit reporting company calls to ask why your credit score is so low.
Having a low credit score can keep you from being able to:
- Buy/rent a house or apartment.
- Buy/rent a car.
- Apply for certain jobs.
- Open a new cellphone plan.
- Open new credit cards.
Just a few weeks of identity theft can mean a lifetime of difficulty for you. Requesting a security freeze is a smart and easy way for you to protect your finances against the worst.
When to Request a Credit Freeze
If you believe you're an identity theft victim, you should seriously consider a security freeze.
Immediately check your bank accounts if you've lost any of the following:
- Driver's license.
- Social Security card.
- Credit or debit card.
If you see suspicious bank activity, ordering a credit freeze will help to ensure your credit score is protected and future investments are not jeopardized.
Requesting a Credit Freeze
Follow these steps if you've determined you should request a credit freeze:
- Contact the major credit reporting agencies:
- Provide them with your personal information to confirm your identity:
- Full name.
- Mailing address.
- Date of birth.
- Social Security number.
- Wait for their response by mail which will have a PIN number that only you can use to “unfreeze" your account.
Depending on the credit reporting company, your state, and the situation, you may or may not have to pay fees for the security freeze. When you're a definite identity theft victim, some agencies won't charge you.
Unfreezing Your Account
Once you've resolved the identity theft, you'll want to unfreeze your credit account. If you forget to do so, you may not be able to make payments on your house/apartment and car. Depending on your state, and your situation, the credit reporting agencies may charge you a fee to unfreeze your account.
To unfreeze your account, you'll need to:
- Contact the major credit reporting agencies again.
- Provide them with the PIN number given to you during the initial security freeze.
- Pay the necessary fees (if applicable).
In some cases, you may want to temporarily unfreeze your account. This might be necessary if, for example, you're trying to apply for a car loan while the identity theft investigation is still open.
Your credit reporting agency will lift the restriction only for the company you're allowing to request your information.
Whether you're requesting a temporary or permanent unfreezing, your credit reporting company is required by law to comply within 3 business days, so plan accordingly.