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What to Know About Credit Freezes

Has your personal data been compromised?  Maybe something is showing up on your credit report that is unfamiliar to you or your information has been included in a data breach. Whatever the reasoning, credit freezes are an easy way to protect your personal information.  

What is a credit freeze? 

A credit freeze blocks access to your credit reports, making it impossible to open any new credit.  This includes applying for loans (mortgages, vehicle, personal, etc.) and opening new accounts (banking, credit cards, utilities, cell phones, etc.).  When the lender is unable to see your credit reports, they cannot access the data required to approve the application.   

Credit freeze vs. credit lock? 

Both credit freezes and credit locks accomplish the same thing: your credit reports are blocked from access.  Credit locks, however, are offered by each individual credit bureau and may incur a fee.  Credit freezes, on the other hand, are mandated by federal law and are free of charge. Visit each individual credit bureau’s site for information on their credit lock programs what other features may be available. 

How to freeze your credit? 

Credit freezes are easy but must be requested through each individual credit bureau.  Visit the reporting agencies website or call them directly to freeze your credit.  You should expect to provide your social security number, birthdate, and other personal information to confirm your identity with the request. 

How to unfreeze your credit? 

Credit can be immediately unfrozen if needed. You can go online to the credit reporting agency website to request an unfreeze.  The security PIN or password that you set-up at the time of your freeze will be needed to unfreeze your information.  Requests can also be made by phone or mail to each bureau. You can also set the amount of time you would like your credit to remain unfrozen.  At the end of that period, it will automatically return to a frozen status.  If you are applying for a loan or account, ask the lender what credit bureaus they check so that you can unfreeze the appropriate bureau only.  

How to check your credit? 

If you haven’t checked your credit recently, now is a great time do so.  Everyone is entitled to a free credit report every 12 months.  You can request your annual report through AnnualCreditReport.com.  You can also utilize other independent services, such as Credit Karma or Credit Sesame, for regular monitoring of your credit score. 

How to handle suspicious or fraudulent activity on your credit report 

If upon reviewing your credit report you see unfamiliar accounts or charges, be sure to take immediate steps.  First, double check the name of the creditor, the amount, and the date the account was opened.  Keep in the mind that the name you know a creditor by may NOT be the name that is issued on the report.  Are you sure the account is fraudulent?   

Once you have determined that the account is not one you opened, call the creditor listed on the report and request additional information.  The creditor should be able to provide additional account details and help you determine if the account is the result of identity theft or if it was simply reported in error.  If the account is not yours, dispute is the next step.  You can complete this through the individual credit bureaus.  Most have detailed information, including steps for completing the process online, available on their websites. 

Should you freeze your child’s credit? 

Short answer: Yes!  Parents and guardians of children under 16 can freeze credit on the minor’s behalf.  The process for requesting the freeze is similar to that for adults, but the child’s birth certificate plus proof that you have the right to freeze the child’s credit will also be required. 

IRS Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) 

If your personal information has been compromised, consider obtaining an Identify Protection (IP) PIN for your tax filings.  Previously, IP PINs were only available to those taxpayers who were confirmed victims of identity theft.  Beginning in 2021, taxpayers may voluntarily opt into the IP PIN program to proactively protect themselves from tax-related identity theft.  If you have a PIN, that number is required to file your annual tax return electronically.  If an attempt is made to file a return with a social security number that has an assigned PIN and the PIN is not included, the IRS system will automatically reject the return.  

Learn more about the IP PIN program on the IRS website

Credit Bureaus 

TransUnion or 888-909-8872

Equifax or 800-349-9960

Experian or 888-397-3742