Identity theft is on the rise yet again, and this time fraudsters’ methods are changing. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, in 2017 social security numbers were compromised more than credit card numbers for the first time ever. What’s more, 2017 saw one million victims more of identity fraud than 2016.
Luckily, protecting your identity just got easier. Thanks to a new law passed in the spring of 2018, consumers now have a right to freeze their credit for free with all credit reporting agencies. What that means, according to the Federal Trade Commission, is that you can “restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.” Read on to find out how to freeze your credit for free.
A New Law is Making It Easier to Freeze Your Credit
There’s a law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) that works to ensure accuracy and fairness in credit reporting. The law has had several amendments over the years, the most recent being the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. It’s this latest addition that we have to thank for free credit freezes.
This new law doesn’t just give us the ability to freeze our credit for free. It also requires a notice explaining this right whenever we receive, per FCRA requirements, a Summary of Consumer Rights or Summary of Consumer Identity Theft Rights. In other words, if you’re in a situation in which the FCRA mandates that you be notified of your rights, then you must also be notified about your right to a free credit freeze.
This new law also changed the original time frame of an initial fraud alert (a note you can put on your credit file to alert lenders to the possibility that your identity has been compromised) from 90 days to one year. This is useful because an initial fraud alert requires lenders to do more to verify the identity of anyone applying for credit in your name.
If you want to learn more about the amendments to the FCRA made by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, check out this release from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Here’s How to Freeze Your Credit for Free
Now that you know you can freeze your credit for free, the next step is understanding how to go about doing it. Credit freezes need to be done with the credit reporting agencies (CRAs) which generate your credit reports (they are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).
Since there are three different CRAs generating credit reports on you, then that means you have to freeze your credit three times (more if you’re a business owner with a business credit report to worry about). Each report, after all, can be different from the next — and lenders don’t have to check all three when reviewing your applications for credit.
In other words, if you were to freeze your TransUnion credit report, for example, and someone tries to apply for credit in your name with a lender who pulls an Experian report, then that lender won’t see your TransUnion credit freeze. You must freeze your credit with all three CRAs for maximum identity theft protection. Here’s how.
Freeze Your Credit via Equifax
There are three different ways you can freeze your credit via Equifax:
- Freeze your Equifax credit report online using this link, or learn more about the company’s process using this link.
- Call the automated security freeze line at this number: 800-349-9960 (You can also reach their customer care line at this number: 888-298-0045)
- Mail a request to freeze your credit to this address:
Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348-5788
Freeze Your Credit via Experian
There are two ways to freeze your credit via Experian:
- You can freeze your credit via Experian using this link, or you can start here.
- If you prefer the phone, you can call Experian at 1-888-397-3742.
Freeze Your Credit via TransUnion
You can freeze your credit via TransUnion two different ways:
- Freeze your credit via TransUnion using this link (or learn more about their process here).
- You can also freeze your credit via TransUnion using their app on the App Store or Google Play.
- TransUnion doesn’t specify the ability to freeze your credit with them over the phone, but you can contact their customer service line if you have questions at 866-744-8221.
Something to Remember After You’ve Frozen Your Credit
Once you’ve frozen your credit, it will stay that way until you temporarily lift the freeze or remove it altogether. If you know you’re going to be in the market for new credit, such as when you’re shopping for a new home or shopping for a new car, you’ll need to at the very least temporarily lift the freeze in order to apply for the loan yourself.
It’s easy to forget this step if you’ve had your credit frozen for several months or even years, so keep this in mind anytime you’re in the market for new credit. Lifting the freeze is as easy as freezing your credit, although doing so online via each CRA is likely the fastest way to go about it. As it can take a couple of days to go through, it’s best not to wait until the day you’re going to apply for new credit to temporarily lift your credit freezes.
[Have you fallen victim to fraud or want to make sure you don’t? Read this.]