You probably already know what identity theft is, but what about getting a credit freeze? This two-letter word is becoming more commonplace in many circles as a way to stop identity thieves in their tracks. So, should you consider freezing your credit?
The answer depends on your reason why you want a freeze. As you will see, a credit freeze might not always be the best answer for your situation.
What is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze is just what it sounds like. Access to your credit report is prohibited unless you temporarily lift the freeze. Some places also call this tool a “security freeze” as well. Same thing, just a different name.
When the freeze is active, banks and lenders won’t be able to access your credit report to review a credit card or loan application. If an identity thief is trying to open fake accounts in your name, this essentially stops them in their tracks. But, your potential landlord or future employer won’t be able to access your credit report during the application process unless you call and temporarily lift the freeze.
If you’re a recent identity theft victim or your personal information was stolen in a data breach, you should strongly consider requesting a credit freeze. You will receive a PIN number that can be used to life or reactivate the freeze as necessary. It’s also an extra security layer so somebody can’t impersonate your identity to easily lift the freeze too.
Advantages of Getting a Credit Freeze
A credit freeze is one of the easiest and most thorough ways to proactively protect your credit. You can basically think of a credit freeze as a bank vault. It’s virtually impossible to break into unless you have the door combination. In your case, somebody needs your pin number.
Here are several other advantages of having a freeze too:
- New credit and loan accounts can’t be opened unless you lift the freeze
- Credit freezes are completely free for every U.S. state (after September 21, 2018)
- One of the few measures to proactively prevent identity theft
- Can quickly unfreeze with a PIN number
- Provides peace of mind
If you don’t want to worry about fake credit or loan accounts being opened in your name, get a credit freeze.
Disadvantages of Getting a Credit Freeze
Because a credit freeze essentially makes your credit report inaccessible, there are a few “costs” to having a credit freeze. These are some of the reasons why you might not want to freeze your credit report.
- Doesn’t protect current credit accounts or your Social Security number
- Have to temporarily pause the freeze or request access for a specific person
- Must keep track of PIN number to access freeze
- Need to request a freeze from each credit bureau
Your current credit and personal information can still be compromised and used for illicit purposes. On the bright side, any activity that requires a credit check will automatically be declined. But, identity thieves can still go on a spending spree until your credit card is frozen. And, getting a credit freeze doesn’t prevent thieves from putting your information on the “dark web.”
How to Get a Free Credit Freeze
After September 21, 2018, any credit freeze request is free. It doesn’t matter what state you live in.
So if you’ve paid for a freeze in the past, you no longer have to!
To request a freeze, you must contact each credit bureau separately:
You can request a free online, by phone, or even snail mail. Each bureau has one business to enact the freeze when requested online or by phone. They have three business days to enact a freeze when you mail a written request.
Additional Steps to Monitor Your Credit
If you’re concerned about thieves opening new credit and loan accounts, getting a credit freeze can prevent a larger headache later if you exclusively rely on a credit monitoring service. If you use a credit monitoring service like Credit Sesame that provides a free credit score. You will receive an alert when a new account is opened, but it can already be too late to stop identity thieves because the account’s already been opened.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t monitor your existing credit accounts. Remember that credit freezes don’t prevent your existing financial accounts from getting hacked. Monitoring your credit can help you spot unusual spending activity and ensuring your personal information isn’t used by others.
- Social Security number monitoring
- “Dark Web” monitoring
- Public Records and Crimes in your name
- Bank accounts
- Investment accounts
These services can also provide identity theft insurance and even assist you with filing the paperwork and recovering your stolen cash too.
A credit freeze prevents new credit card and loan accounts from being opened. Now that you can get free credit freezes, this option is more than attractive than ever. You still need to monitor your existing credit accounts to spot potential fraud. But, you should consider a credit freeze if your identity has been stolen in the past or you’re information has been exposed in a recent data breach.