While you cannot definitively protect yourself from identity theft, there are steps you can take that will make it harder for fraudsters to access and use your sensitive information. One such step is placing credit freeze requests with all three credit bureaus.
Credit Freeze vs. Monitoring
Credit monitoring involves scrutinizing your credit report for changes. These changes could include legitimate and/or fraudulent credit inquiries, new credit accounts, a new reported address or an account that has been turned over to collections.
There are credit monitoring services that will automatically notify you of changes to your report for a fee, or you can monitor your credit for free by requesting and reviewing your reports regularly. However, the disadvantage is that both these approaches are purely reactive. Monitoring only notifies you that you have already fallen victim to identity theft.
Preventive measures, such as a credit freeze, provide much better protection. Also known as a security freeze, this measure blocks access to your credit report, thereby preventing new account fraud, which occurs when someone applies for new credit using your identity.
When someone submits a tenant application or credit application (for a loan or credit card), the creditor will request a copy of the applicant's credit report. If the credit report is blocked, then the creditor is unable to review it and will typically deny the application. Therefore, a credit freeze is a method of stopping fraudulent activity before it occurs.
Who Should Freeze Their Credit?
Data breaches are increasingly common and the likelihood that a person’s credit report and other sensitive information have already been exposed is high. It’s best to be proactive about preventing identity theft, especially if you rarely need to grant a new creditor access to your credit activity and history. I strongly recommend that all consumers consider placing security freezes on their credit since recovering from identity theft can be a long and difficult process.
When it comes to seniors and their family caregivers, extra protection is crucial. A busy family caregiver may not have the time or energy to monitor their own credit report, let alone their loved one’s credit activity. A credit freeze provides invaluable peace of mind.
A certain cohort of “protected consumers,” which includes incapacitated individuals and those who have been appointed a guardian, should absolutely be protected by a credit freeze. Since these consumers are unable to monitor their own credit or protect themselves from fraud, caregivers with durable financial power of attorney (POA) or court-appointed guardianship can request security freezes for their on their behalf.
How to Freeze Your Credit
The three nationwide credit reporting companies are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You must contact each of these bureaus to request separate freezes. Only setting up a security freeze with one of them is not sufficient, since creditors do not report to all three.
Each credit bureau permits consumers to request a security freeze online, by phone or by mail. You may also temporarily lift a freeze (aka “thaw” your credit) and permanently remove a freeze via these methods using the account and/or personal identification number (PIN) you have established with each bureau. To help you get started, the webpages and contact information for the three bureaus are listed below.
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
You can find a complete list of information/documentation that must be submitted with your written request at Experian.com.
1-800-349-9960 (automated line)
Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348-5788
When submitting a request by mail, you’ll need to fill out an Equifax Security Freeze Request Form and include copies of proof of identity and proof of address documentation.
P.O. Box 160
Woodlyn, PA 19094
Written requests should include your name, address and Social Security number as well as a six-digit PIN to associate with your TransUnion freeze.
Credit Freeze FAQs
How much does a credit freeze cost?
Security freeze fees used to be set by individual states, but passage of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act in 2018 made it so that any consumer could obtain (and lift) a freeze from any of the three credit bureaus free of charge.
The three credit bureaus offer many other paid credit monitoring and identity theft protection products, services and packages, but a security freeze is simple, effective, governed by federal law and free.
Does a credit freeze protect my existing bank or credit accounts?
A security freeze does not prevent someone from using your current credit cards or accessing your bank account information. Remember, a freeze only blocks new creditors from accessing your credit report. If a review of your report is not required to commit a fraudulent act, then a freeze will not prevent it. Unfortunately, nothing can prevent all types of identity theft, but a credit freeze is the best defense against new account fraud.
Who can review my credit report while a freeze is in place?
You can—and you should! While a security freeze is very helpful in preventing identity theft, you should still monitor your credit at least annually to check for suspicious activity and keep an eye on your credit score.
Additionally, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “only a limited number of entities can see your file while a freeze is in place, including creditors of accounts you currently hold, certain government entities like child support agencies, [and] companies that you've hired to monitor your credit file.”
How do I lift a credit freeze?
If you plan to apply for new credit, you’ll need to either temporarily lift your freeze or remove it completely. When you freeze your credit report, each bureau will require you to establish a separate password-protected account and/or PIN for managing your freeze preferences. Keep this information safe and do not lose it. While it is possible to reset your password and request a new PIN, it will take time and verification.
Ask the new creditor which bureau they’ll obtain your credit report from and then place a temporary lift request with this bureau online, by phone or by mail. If you choose to lift a freeze online or by phone and are able to provide the information needed to verify your identity, your credit will be thawed within one hour. Although options vary by bureau, consumers may be able to schedule a temporary lift in advance and even provide a set duration for the lift, such as one day or one week. Once the requested temporary lift timeframe has elapsed, your credit freeze (and protection) will resume.
Credit Freezes Protect All Consumers
While it may seem like overkill, establishing a security freeze with all three credit reporting companies eliminates the possibility of new account fraud by blocking access to your credit report. This is just one of the many layers of protection required in the ongoing fight against fraud and identity theft—especially for busy and vulnerable consumers.