Freezing Your Credit: Five Key Things to Know

In 2017, after the Equifax hack affected over 145 million people, I froze my credit. At that time, I remember thinking that I was “done” and would never have to unfreeze it because I did not plan to apply for credit again.

The last six months have proven that assumption wrong, however. Even though I have not applied for any loans or credit cards, I had to unfreeze my credit multiple times: to open a savings account at a national bank, to get three utility services at my new home, and for a background check to volunteer at a non-profit agency thrift shop.

Below are five key facts about freezing credit from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

¨      The purpose of a credit freeze is to restrict access to your credit report, which makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. This is because creditors (and banks and utilities and non-profits) use credit reports as a type of character reference. If they can’t see a report, they may not extend credit, open a bank account, provide utility service, or allow you to volunteer, especially when cashiering is involved.
¨      A credit freeze does not raise or lower a person’s credit score nor does it prevent someone with frozen credit from receiving a free annual credit report from each of the “Big Three” credit reporting agencies (CRAs); i.e.,  Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion at  www.annualcreditreport.com.
¨      Credit freezes do not prevent identity thieves from making charges on your existing accounts. Fraud victims and potential fraud victims (i.e., everyone else) still need to monitor their bank and credit card statements carefully for evidence of unauthorized cash withdrawals and/or fraudulent charges.
¨      Credit freezes (and requests to unfreeze) need to be placed individually with each CRA. There is no one “central source” for credit freezes as there is with credit reports. “How to” information is provided by each of the CRAs at www.equifax.com, www.experian.com, and www.TransUnion.com.  Be prepared to provide personal information such as your name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number.
¨      A credit freeze remains in place until it is permanently or temporarily lifted. If you need to temporarily lift your freezes, as I did, try to find out which CRA the creditor (or bank or utility) will be using so you don’t have to undo everything. “Thaw” requests made by phone or online must lift a freeze within an hour. When I lifted my credit freezes temporarily, I specified a date range when I knew that my credit history would be checked.
For more information about credit freezes, review the FTC fact sheetCredit Freeze FAQs.

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