Security Freezes: Your Overlooked Identity Theft Weapon

Did you know you can lock access to your credit information in order to prevent anyone from opening new cards, accounts, or loans in your name? This swift and simple process will help protect you from the majority of identity thieves.

A security freeze is a legal process that automatically locks your credit file. When a person applies for credit, the lender – whether it is a business, bank, or the government – orders a credit report to examine the person’s credit history. After all, the organization has to receive reliable credit information from a credit bureau before it makes a decision about loan risk. A security freeze prevents that credit report and all associated information, such as credit scores, from being given out to anyone. Organizations are effectively prevented from giving any type of credit to the person in question.

When Can a Security Freeze Help?

When your identity is stolen, thieves may have enough information to at least apply for credit in your name. If the application works, they can use store credit to buy whatever they want, and the debt becomes your problem. Some identity thieves may even apply for mortgages or home equity loans in your name. So if your confidential information is stolen or you even suspect identity theft, you can place a security freeze to prevent thieves from creating any debt in your name. While you won’t be able to create credit, you are protected until the issue can be resolved, which then lifts the freeze.

Who Can Use Security Freezes?

Nearly anyone in the United States can place a credit freeze. This includes residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands as well. Laws vary a little state by state, and some may have different rights notices. For example, most states (but not all) prevent organizations from charging to create a credit freeze. When it comes to states that don’t make legal provisions for security freezes, you still have the right to create a freeze. And any credit bureau will be happy to do the freeze for you.

What is the Process?

The three credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. In most cases, when you perform a credit action with one of the bureaus, the action pertains to all three. But this is not true of security freezes – you must freeze all three bureaus separately. Fortunately, the process is still relatively easy. You can visit a few key websites created by the bureaus and have the three freezes in place in a matter of minutes.

Some personal information is required. Be ready with your Social Security number, date of birth, your current address, and an account or card to make any necessary payments. The bureaus provide more information at:

Equifax: The Equifax portal gives you a link to an online process where you can freeze your report, as well as a phone number and an address for alternate contact information. Removing a credit freeze requires a visit to a similar but separate Equifax page.

Experian: Start at the Security Freeze page that Experian has created. Then choose your state and move onto your particular process page. Follow the links there, or call the numbers the bureau provides.

Transunion: Transunion provides a very useful chart showing applicable fees based on the state that you live in. Expand the other FAQs to find out more information, and click the large picture at the top of the section to get started on the online form.

Each bureau will give you a PIN or a password that you must protect (and not confuse it with those of other bureaus!). When you want to unfreeze your account, you must authorize a temporary release of a credit report or remove the freeze entirely. This passcode will be required – it lets the bureaus know that this time you really are you. This is the only way that a freeze can be removed.

Freeze Now and Save Later

If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft where your social security number and other key information has been lost, act now and create a security freeze to avoid future troubles. Seek further protection and help by using the federal identity theft websites, such as:

Justice.gov: Identity Theft and Identity Fraud

FTC: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft

ID Theft Center