We're all familiar with the deep freeze this winter, right?! But have you heard of a credit freeze or security freeze? If you are looking for a way to be extra vigilant against identity theft or if you've been a victim of identity theft, you may want to consider freezing your credit with each of the three major credit bureaus.
A security freeze is basically a lock down on your credit information that prevents anyone other than you and existing creditors to access your credit report information (With other exceptions, too. Law enforcement, etc. Things like payday loans and buy-here-pay-here auto loans don't check credit reports, so freezing doesn't help prevent fraud in those instances. I've come across that question from people a few times recently.) . Having a freeze does not negatively impact your credit score in any way but a freeze on your credit can cause some difficulty for you if and when you need to use your credit.
So, how can you place a freeze on your credit? You have to call each one of the three credit bureaus individually -- Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion -- and go through their specific credit freeze procedures. They will each provide you with a PIN (personal identification number) that you will need to keep track of and provide when you want to lift your freeze. So, make certain you save this PIN somewhere safe. "Victims of fraud can freeze their credit reports at no cost," said Rod Griffin, Director of Public Education for Experian. "If you are not a victim, there is usually a fee at each credit bureau, typically about $10, although it can vary by state law."
How can you lift a freeze? In order to discontinue a security freeze, you must again contact each credit bureau individually. So, if you are planning on wanting new credit, give yourself plenty of time to have the freeze lifted before you try to open a new credit account. "As with freezing your report, there is usually a fee to thaw it, too, for people who are not fraud victims," Griffin said. "It can cost as much as $30 to lift your freeze with each credit bureau every time you need to make your credit report available. And access to your credit may be needed more than most people realize. For example, we don't often think about your credit report being needed when you get a new cell phone, apply for new utility service, shop for better insurance rates or have the chance to save some money through an instant credit offer."
Oh how I wish the deep freeze this winter could be lifted! Anyhow, a security freeze may be the right option to protect your identity, just educate yourself before you do it.