Freezing credit 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 trying to open a loan or credit card in your name is unlikely to to succeed.
The case for protecting your identity is stronger than ever, as the number of data breaches hit an all-time high in 2021, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
But many consumers are dragging their feet. Although more than three-quarters of respondents to an Identity Theft Resource Center survey said they were familiar with credit freezes, only 29% had ever placed one.
Reasons they cited for not using a credit freeze included lack of need and confusion or difficulty with the process. Some consumers also had misconceptions about freezes, fearing that a freeze would negatively affect their credit score (it doesn’t) and that freezing or unfreezing a credit report is expensive (i. ‘is free).
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You don’t have to suffer from identity theft to place a gel. In fact, it’s wise to freeze your reports before you become a victim. You will 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, date of birth, and address, and the offices 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 code that you will use to confirm your identity if you want to lift the freeze while applying for a credit card or loan.
Experian needs a PIN code to unblock your account. With TransUnion, you must provide a PIN to remove a freeze over the phone, but online you can manage your freeze with a password-protected account. Equifax no longer requires PINs; instead, you use a password-protected online account or provide identity verification information over the phone.
Offices are required to lift a freeze within one hour of an online or telephone request.
Children are attractive targets for identity thieves because it can take years for someone to notice that someone has stolen a child’s identity. By law, you can freeze the credit of your children under 16. If the child does not yet have a credit report, the office will create an account and freeze it.
You must submit a written request to each office and include supporting documentation, such as copies of your child’s birth certificate and driver’s license. If you are a curator or guardian or have power of attorney for someone (eg an elderly relative), you can also freeze their credit report.
Visit Kiplinger.com to learn more about this and similar money-related topics.