When it comes to protecting yourself from identity theft, you have two options: monitor your credit regularly or implement a security freeze. So, how do you choose which is best for you?
Credit Monitoring vs. Security Freeze
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 monitor your credit and notify you of reported changes for a fee, or you can monitor your credit for free by requesting and reviewing your credit reports annually. However, the disadvantage of both methods of monitoring is that it is reactive. It only notifies you that you have already fallen victim to identity theft.
Preventive measures, such as a security freeze, provide much better protection. A security freeze (also known as a credit freeze) 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 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 the report and must deny the application. Therefore, a security freeze is a proactive method of stopping fraudulent activity before it occurs.
Does a security freeze protect my current bank or credit accounts?
A security freeze does not prevent someone from using your current credit cards or accessing your bank account information. It will prevent someone from applying for a higher credit limit on your existing credit accounts, though.
Remember, a security freeze only blocks access to your credit report. If a review of your report is not required to commit a fraudulent act, then the security freeze will not prevent it. Unfortunately, nothing can prevent all types of identity theft, but a security freeze is the best defense against new account fraud.
Am I still able to review my credit reports?
Yes. When you establish a security freeze, the credit bureau will send you a personal identification number (PIN). If you need to access your credit report, you can temporarily lift the security freeze. Simply contact the credit bureau(s), either by phone or online, and provide the necessary information, including your PIN.
Make sure you do not lose your PIN. While it is possible to obtain a new one, it is not an easy process.
What if I want to refinance my mortgage?
Contact the credit bureau(s) you have a freeze with, either by phone or online, and ask for a temporary lift of the security freeze. Again, you will be asked to provide your PIN.
If you have a security freeze with all three bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, there is no need to contact all of them. Simply ask the creditor (in this case, the mortgage company) from which credit bureau they will be obtaining the credit report. Then place the temporary lift with that credit bureau. Please note the bureau may charge you a fee for the temporary lift.
Costs Associated with Security Freezes
The costs for instating, temporarily lifting or completely removing a security freeze vary by state. The amounts also depend on your age and whether you are an identity theft victim. In most states, if you are an identity theft victim, the fee to initiate a security freeze is waived. In other states, if you are over the age of 62 or 65, the fee is waived. If fees are involved, they are still quite affordable, ranging from $2 to $15.
TransUnion provides a security freeze fee chart by state on their website. The fees at Equifax and Experian should be similar, if not the same.
How to Set Up a Security Freeze
The three main credit bureaus are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You must contact each bureau individually to set up freezes. Only setting up a security freeze with one of these bureaus is not sufficient, as creditors do not report to all three.
Each credit bureau permits you to set up a security freeze online, by phone or by mail. To help you get started, the contact information for each bureau is listed below.
Online: Experian Security Freeze Website
By phone: 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742)
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
Visit Experian's website to obtain a list of required information that must be submitted with your written request.
Online: Equifax Security Freeze Website
By phone: 800-685-1111 (automated service line)
888-298-0045 (customer care agents)
Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348-5788
Make sure to include the following information with your request:
- Your complete name including any suffix (e.g. JR., Sr., etc.)
- Complete address
- Social Security Number
- Date of birth
- Payment (if applicable)
It is recommended that you also send an approved form of identification for verification purposes. Approved forms of ID are provided on Equifax's Acceptable Forms of Identification for Verification page.
Online: TransUnion Credit Freeze Website
By phone: 1-888-909-8872
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Contact TransUnion by phone to inquire about the required information to be included with your written request.
Identity theft poses numerous risks to consumers. By establishing a security freeze, you are eliminating 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 identity theft.