How a Credit Freeze Can Prevent Identity Theft

credit freeze

It seems like every time you turn on the news or log on to your Facebook account these days, there is chatter about yet another massive data breach. In today’s increasingly digitized world, our personal information has never been more at risk of becoming compromised. Identity theft is a very real threat to your valuable identifiable data, your credit score and your overall financial security. While it can seem like identity theft is out of your control, you actually do have the power to defend yourself. One of the best ways to do this is with a credit freeze.

What Is a Credit Freeze?

A credit freeze puts an immediate lock down on your credit information and prevents potential cyber thieves from stealing any of your identifying information in order to open an account (anywhere) and start racking up debt in your name. A freeze will disallow anyone who is not actually you from gaining access to your credit file. Since creditors like banks and credit card companies need to see your credit report before they will open a new line of credit for you, they will be unable to do so unless you specifically lift the credit freeze.

When you initiate a credit freeze, the only people who will have unlimited access to your credit report are you and any current creditors and debt collectors you may have. Employers and some government agencies will have limited access to your credit report.


IMPORTANT NOTE: A credit freeze does not impact your credit score and is totally free.


When Is a Credit Freeze Called For?

A lot of people freeze their credit after they have experienced an information breach or have otherwise had all or part of their personal data stolen. The challenge most commonly encountered when freezing your credit report after an incident is the race against time. Who will “get to” your credit report (and all of the personal information contained therein) first – you, or the criminal?

Because of the aforementioned “race against time,” preventative measures, like freezing your credit before an incident occurs, are much more likely to be effective. With a credit freeze, even if your Social Security number somehow becomes compromised, the rest of your data and accounts will be protected. It is also a great idea to freeze your child’s credit report now in order to protect their future.

How Do I Freeze My Credit?

While freezing your credit is free, it does require you to jump through a few hoops. You will need to contact all three major credit bureaus and freeze your account individually. While this is time consuming, it will be worth it when your credit report and score remain safe if (when) another cyber attack materializes.

Each credit bureau will present a slightly different process to freeze your credit, but you will definitely need to provide them with: your Social Security number, birth date, last two addresses, a clear copy of a government-issued ID card, and a copy of a bill or bank statement with proof of your current address. You can request a freeze via phone, e-mail, or through the good old-fashioned Postal Service.

Once you apply for a credit freeze, the credit bureaus will give you a PIN with which to manage your credit freeze. You will need to keep this number in a safe place because you will also need it in order to unfreeze your information when the time comes to open a new line of credit. Your credit freeze will be activated one business day after you make the request via phone or online, with mail requests taking three business days.

What Happens When I Need to “Unfreeze” My Credit?

To unfreeze your credit, you will need to provide the same credentials with which you initiated the freeze, to the credit bureaus. Per federal law, the freeze should be lifted within an hour if you make the request via phone or email. Mail requests to unfreeze your credit will take three business days.

You can also request to have the freeze lifted temporarily, so a potential employer or landlord can do a quick check before your credit goes back into freeze mode.


PRO TIP: Ask which credit bureau they will be contacting and only unfreeze your data at that bureau.


Is There a Down Side to Freezing My Credit?

There are some cons to credit freezes. The process of requesting and managing a credit freeze with three different credit bureaus can be a lot to juggle. You will also have to go through the extra step of unfreezing your information anytime you apply for a new line of credit. Additionally, putting a credit freeze into effect now won’t protect any of your existing accounts from fraudulent activity.

Regardless of any negatives, in today’s increasingly digital world, protecting yourself from a cyber attack with a frozen credit report is a fantastic—and free—way to keep your personal information private.