With the rapid influx of online businesses and the availability to do everyday tasks such as banking, shopping and investing through Internet-based platforms, there has been a rise in the occurrence of identity theft and financial fraud among consumers. It can be a challenge to fully protect your personal information online, but there are mechanisms in place to help prevent an identity thief from using stolen data for their benefit. One of the most effective tools in identity theft protection is a credit freeze.
A credit freeze allows you to effectively seal your credit reports through each of the three major credit bureaus. An individual who places a credit freeze on his or her credit file also establishes a personal identification number (PIN) that allows for a credit report to be unfrozen, or thawed, when necessary. This is an important tool because new credit account applications require creditors to view a credit file prior to making a decision to approve a loan, credit card, mortgage or line of credit. When identity thieves attempt to acquire a new credit account with the personal information of one of their victims, a credit freeze stops the process altogether.
An individual who applies for a new credit account legitimately can utilize his or her established PIN to allow new creditors to view credit history and make credit decisions. It is important to note that a credit freeze does not have an impact on current credit accounts in good standing. However, there are specific considerations that must be evaluated prior to effecting a credit freeze.
Placing a credit freeze comes at a cost for individuals who are not a victim of identity theft, ranging from $3 to $10 per person, per bureau. Additionally, temporary thaws of a credit file can also cost, and fall within the same range. Victims of identity theft can place a credit freeze with each of the three credit bureaus for no cost, however. A credit freeze may not be appropriate for employees who have their credit accessed on a regular basis as part of their employment, as the costs to thaw a credit file and freeze again can add up quickly. It is necessary to weigh these costs against the benefits of a credit freeze prior to implementing the process.
A credit freeze must be placed individually with each of the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, as there is no central location to place an overarching freeze on your credit files. The following steps can be taken to freeze your credit file at each of the credit bureaus:
You can visit the Equifax website; call the automated system at (800) 349-9960; or send a certified letter to request a credit freeze, and costs vary by state. If the request is made via mail to Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, Georgia 30348, you must include your personal information along with your request, including:
Equifax will send your unique PIN via mail once the credit freeze request is received and processed.
A credit freeze can be requested via Experian’s website; calling a customer service representative or using the automated system at 888-397-3742; or through a letter sent, certified mail to Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013 or by overnight mail to Experian, 701 Experian Parkway, Allen, TX 75013
, and costs vary by state. If the request is made by mail, the following information must be included:
Once Experian has received your request, the credit freeze will be processed and a PIN assigned.
A credit freeze with TransUnion can be placed through the bureau’s website, via telephone at 888-909-8872, or by certified mail to TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022-2000. As with Experian and Equifax, costs vary by state. If making a request via mail, the following information is necessary:
A PIN will be assigned to you once all information is received and processed.
When you’re ready to permanently remove or temporary lift the credit freeze you can do so by following these steps.
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