How to freeze your credit to prevent fraud or identity theft

A credit freeze prevents credit bureaus from sharing your credit report with any person or lender without your permission.

“If you’ve been the victim of a data breach or identity theft, a credit freeze is a good way to mitigate the risk of further damage to your finances and identity,” says Greg Mahnken, credit industry analyst at Credit Card Insider. “If an identity thief or unauthorized person tries to apply for credit on your behalf, they will not be able to access your credit reports and the application will be denied.”

A credit freeze does not damage your credit, and you can lift it when you need a credit check, such as when applying for a loan or opening a credit card. However, you must contact each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to place the freeze, and you must contact them again when you want to lift it, even temporarily.

Here are the steps to follow to freeze your credit:

How to freeze your credit

1. Gather your information

You will need to request the freeze from each of the major credit bureaus. It’s important to note that they won’t notify each other, so you’ll have to freeze your credit with all three bureaus individually, Mahnken says.

For each of the offices, you will need to provide personal information, including your full legal name, social security number, date of birth, and home address.

2. Contact all three credit bureaus

This can be done online, over the phone or by mail. These three credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian and Transunion.

How to do an Equifax Credit Freeze: You can easily freeze your credit with Equifax on its website or through an automated phone line: 1-800-685-1111 (1-800-349-9960 for New York residents). If you prefer to speak to a human, their customer service number is 1-888-298-0045.

How to do an Experian credit freeze: To freeze your credit with Experian, you can visit its online Freeze Center. You can also call 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742).

How to Freeze TransUnion Credit: TransUnion allows you to freeze your credit online. You can also add a gel through the automated phone system (or choose to speak to a live agent) by calling 1-888-909-8872.

There is no cost for credit freezes under the law since September 2018.

“Freezing your credit is an effective and free way to prevent thieves from opening credit cards or other financial accounts in your name,” says Dana Marineau, vice president and financial attorney at Credit Karma. “But keep in mind that it can be cumbersome to remove a freeze from all three bureaus every time you need a credit check.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, after receiving your request for a freeze, each credit bureau will provide you with a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep the PIN or password private and safe. It will be needed when and if you choose to lift the frost.

3. Understand how to unfreeze it

A credit freeze can be lifted at any time online or over the phone and will remain in place until you ask the credit bureau to lift it or remove it temporarily.

If you request a freeze lift, the credit bureau must lift it within an hour, according to the Federal Trade Commission. If you make your request by mail, the credit bureau must lift the freeze within three business days of receiving your request. There is no charge for lifting the credit freeze.

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