Data breaches seem to be inevitable these days. When they happen, your personal and financial information can be compromised leaving you feeling vulnerable. While you can’t control the manner in which your personal data is safeguarded by others, you can make it more difficult for criminals to use your personal information to cause you harm.
Most companies must first view your credit report prior to extending credit. With that in mind, freezing your credit may be one of the easiest ways to protect yourself against identity theft. By putting a freeze on your credit, you restrict access to your personal information thereby preventing thieves from opening new accounts in your name.
To be the most effective, a credit freeze should be placed through each of the three credit bureaus; TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. The process takes just minutes and, as of September 21, 2018, it’s free of charge. A credit freeze can make a big difference in the safety of your personal and financial information.
When contacting the credit bureaus to freeze your credit, you must supply your full name, date of birth, social security number, and current billing address. In certain circumstances they may need additional information from you as well. You will be given a personal identification number (PIN) which can be used to temporarily lift the credit freeze when you wish to apply for a new line of credit. Please note that if you lift your credit freeze, be sure to verify that your freeze has been reactivated after your loan or new line of credit has been approved.
A credit freeze can be temporarily lifted within one hour by making your request online or by phone. If you choose to submit your request via mail, the credit bureaus have three business days after receiving your request to lift the freeze.
I am living proof that this works. I placed a freeze on my credit in 2017. In late 2018 I purchased a vehicle and applied for credit. The dealership contacted me to let me know they had been blocked from viewing my credit report. I was able to unfreeze my credit online and, an hour later, was approved for credit. I then re-froze my credit. It was very easy and gave me peace of mind that this system really works.
Although a credit freeze is a good tool for circumventing fraud, it won’t prevent all types of identity theft so be sure to monitor your bank and credit card accounts on a regular basis. You may also wish to obtain and thoroughly review your credit report at least annually. For a free copy, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877.322.8228.
Here are the three credit bureaus’ contact information if you would like to freeze your credit:
- Equifax: equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services – 800.685.1111
- Experian: experian.com/help – 888.397.3742
- TransUnion: transunion.com/credit-help – 888.909.8872
For more information, go to the Federal Trade Commission website.