What Is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze is one of many terms that describe the same thing: the prevention of anyone from gaining access to your credit information. A credit freeze prevents prospective lenders from viewing your credit information, which in turn prevents anyone from opening a new line of credit in your name since they can't ascertain your risk as a borrower. Basically, a credit freeze is the nuclear option when you've been the victim of identity theft, and it's your best weapon against someone sullying your credit and reputation with new lenders.
However, here's the bad news. A credit freeze doesn't keep a thief from ruining your credit and reputation with any accounts that you currently have open. Even if you request a freeze on your credit, the thief can still use your credit cards, open new checking accounts in your name and with your personal information, and ruin your credit with lenders who have worked with you for a long time. Nevertheless, if an identity thief has hijacked your identity and accounts, the best way to begin damage control is to ask TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian for a credit freeze.
Requesting a credit freeze is a very good idea if:
- You've lost your wallet
- You think someone has stolen your credit card statements and other mail
- Your Social Security number has been stolen
- Someone has hacked into the database of one of your credit accounts
- You have any reason to believe that someone has stolen your identity
- There are large purchases that you didn't make on an account statement
- Someone has gained unauthorized access to your personal information
To request a credit freeze, you need to contact each of the aforementioned credit reporting agencies. Both TransUnion and Experian will allow you to request a credit freeze on their websites; to request a freeze with Equifax, it must be a written request. When you make your credit freeze request, make sure to include:
- Your full name
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Copies of your driver's license or state-issued ID and a utility bill or insurance invoice
- The credit freeze request fee (varies by agency and the state where you live)
- Current address and any other addresses over the last two years
Each credit agency may require slightly different information to request a credit freeze, but those are the basics. If you're the victim of identity theft, you may be able to get the credit bureau to waive their fees, but you'll need to send them a copy of the police report and possibly other documentation to support your case. Like other aspects of your credit, the best defense is a good offense -- that means you need to take the proactive steps necessary to protect your credit and your identity. The credit bureaus will work with you on the credit freeze request and provide other information to help you with the process.
It will take some time and may tax your patience, but don't get down on yourself. Anyone can be the victim of identity theft, and you're not alone; it happens to millions of people every year. Information is your best resource when this happens, and a credit freeze is one of the most powerful ways to prevent more credit problems.
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