Credit Freeze Guide: The best way to protect yourself against identity theft

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Equifax data breach - Clark Howard credit freeze guide
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If you haven’t already frozen your credit, what are you waiting for? Credit freezes are one of the most effective ways for consumers to protect themselves against identity theft — and this goes for anyone at any time — regardless of whether you were impacted by any one specific breach.

And it’s imperative that you freeze your credit with all three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Below is a quick reference guide on how to put a freeze in place with each bureau, followed by more information on the process, how to thaw your credit and more.

How to freeze your credit with the major agencies

TransUnion

  • Online: Visit the Credit Freeze page here
  • By phone: 1-888-909-8872
  • By mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail using this sample letter. Please note the attachments you must include.
    • Use the following address:
      • TransUnion LLC
        P.O. Box 2000
        Chester, PA 19016

Equifax

  • Online: Visit this page to freeze your credit with Equifax. Important note: With such high traffic to the website, if you can’t get your request processed, just wait about a day and try again.
  • By phone: 1-800-685-1111 (NY residents please call 1-800-349-9960)
  • By mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail using this sample letter. Please note the attachments you must include.
    • Use the following address:
      • Equifax Security Freeze
        P.O. Box 105788
        Atlanta, GA 30348

Experian

  • Online: Visit the Credit Freeze page here
  • By phone: 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742). When calling, press 2 and then follow prompts for security freeze.
  • By mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail using this sample letter. Please note the attachments you must include.
    • Use the following address:
      • Experian Security Freeze
        P.O. Box 9554
        Allen, TX 75013

What exactly is a credit freeze?

A credit freeze allows you to seal your credit reports and use a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can use to temporarily “thaw” your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed. The added layer of security means that thieves can’t establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information.

Freezing your credit files has no impact whatsoever on your existing lines of credit, such as credit cards. You can continue to use them as you regularly would even when your credit is frozen.

Freezes have been available for free to victims of identity theft for some years, but passage of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act means that credit-reporting bureaus must allow adult consumers to freeze their credit for free.

From September 21, 2018 onward, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian all have a webpage on their respective websites for requesting fraud alerts and credit freezes. The FTC also has links to those webpages at IdentityTheft.gov.

Additionally, active members of the U.S. military will be able to receive free electronic credit monitoring from the three major credit-reporting agencies for one year. After that, the service can be renewed for the length of deployment.

Parents or guardians are now able to place credit freezes on their children under age 16.

*When you do a credit freeze, it is imperative that you freeze your credit with all three bureaus.*

When shouldn’t you freeze your credit?

If your credit reports are accessed often for work or because you create new accounts with various financial institutions on a regular basis, it is not recommended that you freeze your accounts. The costs to regularly “thaw” your reports would tend to be excessive.

How/when to thaw your credit

Four states remove your credit freeze automatically after seven years. These states are Kentucky, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.

In most states, your credit freeze remains permanently on your files until you request removal. But not so in the states listed above, according to the Consumers Union’s guide to security freeze protection.

If you’re a resident of one of these states, pay close attention. You’ll need to set some kind of calendar reminder for seven years from the date of placement. That will serve as a reminder to refresh your credit freeze status before it drops off your radar completely and you go months or years without this key protection against identity theft!

Below you’ll find instructions and links to assist you in obtaining your credit freeze or thaw online from each major bureau.

Detailed instructions: How to freeze and thaw your credit with each agency

How long before your credit freeze is activated? One thing to remember, as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says, is that the agency must activate the freeze within one business day if you do it via online or phone. If you request online that your credit by thawed, the agency must lift it within one hour. If requested by phone, it must be done within three business days, according to the FTC.

Free credit freezes: How to freeze your credit with Equifax

The Atlanta-based company has a webpage on its site that promises three easy steps to freezing  your credit.

Free credit freeze - Equifax data breach

The company asks for your name, Social Security number, date of birth and phone number (optional).

Once you’ve entered that information, you will be able to set up an account. Log on and you’ll be redirected to a welcome page with “Freeze” and “Alerts” on it.

Click “Freeze” and it will take you to the online hub where you can place, lift or remove a credit freeze on your Equifax credit report.

Once you accept the terms of use, press the Next button. Here is where you’ll be taken to Step 2 to freeze your credit. You’ll see a button that says Submit.

Once you press the Submit button, you will be prompted to view a PDF document that contains your PIN. Do not lose it. It should also be noted that a PIN is no longer required for online security freeze transactions, but you will need it for any credit freeze transactions done via phone or mail.

  • By mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail using this sample letter. Please note the attachments you must include.
  • use the following address:
    • Equifax Security Freeze
      P.O. Box 105788
      Atlanta, GA. 30348
  • If your PIN is late arriving, call 1-888-298-0045. They will ask you for some ID and arrange for your PIN to be sent to you in 4-7 days.
  • Unfreeze: Do a temporary thaw of your Equifax credit freeze by snail mail, online or by calling 1-800-685-1111 (N.Y. residents dial 1-800-349-9960).
  • Info on freezing a child’s credit with Equifax can be found here.

Free credit freezes: How to freeze your credit with Experian

At Experian’s Security Freeze Center online, you can put a freeze on your credit, thaw your credit and get a credit report all in the same place.

Experan Security Freeze Center - Now you can freeze your credit for free
Photo credit: Screenshot from Experian.com

Once you press the “Add a security freeze,” it will take you farther down the page, where you’ll need to apply.

Once you click “Apply online,” Experian will take you to a form where you’ll have to fill out your personal information: name, address, Social Security number and more.

Next you’ll be taken to an identity verification page. It will ask you a number of questions about your financial activities. You’ll need to select the answer from multiple choice options. One of the questions will be something like: “According to your credit profile, you may have opened an auto loan in or around April 2002. Please select the lender for this account.”

Once you are verified, you will be prompted to put a security freeze on your account. You will then be issued a PIN. Do not lose it.
  • By phone: You can freeze your credit with Experian via phone by calling 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742). When calling, press 2 then follow prompts for security freeze.
  • By mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail using this sample letter. Please note the attachments you must include. If requesting a freeze by mail, use the following address:
    • Experian
      P.O. Box 9554
      Allen, TX. 75013
  • Child’s credit freeze: You can also freeze a child’s credit report. The information contained at this link is applicable for all three credit bureaus. You must first write a letter to each bureau to learn if your minor child has a credit report and if so, then you can proceed to freeze it.
  • Unfreeze: Do a temporary thaw of your Experian credit freeze online or by calling 1-888-397-3742.
  • If requesting a freeze by mail, use the following address:

Free credit freezes: How to freeze your credit with TransUnion

Visit TransUnion’s Credit Freeze page online to enact a security freeze on your credit. Just click the orange “Add Freeze” button. From there you will be prompted to fill out an application.

TransUnion credit freeze

Once you click on “Add Freeze,” it will take you to a page where you need to create a user account. Once you add your information, it will generate a user account.

After you create a user account, you’ll be prompted to log on. Once you’re into the system, you’ll be able to set up a PIN. On this page, you’ll see a box to “Confirm your PIN.” Unlike the other credit-reporting agencies, this will only be a six-digit number. Do not lose this.

Please note: When doing any TransUnion credit freeze transaction online, your PIN is not necessary. Any such transaction by phone or via mail will need the PIN.

Once you set up your PIN, you’ll need to press the “Continue” button to freeze your credit. Once you do that, you’ll see a page that says “Freeze added.”

  • By phone: Call TransUnion (1-888-909-8872) or by certified mail – return receipt requested.
  • By mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail using this sample letter. Please note the attachments you must include. If requesting a freeze by mail, use the following address:
  • TransUnion LLC
    P.O. Box 2000
    Chester, PA 19016
  • Unfreeze: Do a temporary thaw of your TransUnion credit freeze online (click “Manage Freeze”) or by calling 1-888-909-8872.
  • Info on freezing a child’s credit with TransUnion can be found here under “Freeze a loved one’s credit.”

One more credit freeze to consider

Another national credit-reporting agency, the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange (NCTUE), has recently revealed itself to be powered by Equifax.

“In addition to the three big credit bureaus, there are a variety of special credit bureaus, including this one,” Clark says.

The NCTUE is a member-owned database where phone, utility and cable companies exchange source-anonymous information on service requests, payment history, and historical account status and/or fraudulent accounts. Because the NCTUE is governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers can request their “disclosure reports” from the agency as well.

NATIONAL CONSUMER TELECOMMUNICATIONS & UTILITIES EXCHANGE

  • You can obtain a credit freeze on your NCTUE Disclosure Report under state law or the Exchange Service Center voluntary security freeze program by calling 1-866-349-5355. You can also mail your request to:

NCTUE Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105561
Atlanta, GA 30348

  • Unfreeze: Do a temporary thaw of your NCTUE credit freeze by calling 1-866-349-5355 or writing o the address above

If you have specific questions about the Equifax data breach and how it may impact you, contact Clark’s Consumer Action Center — a FREE help line open Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. EST and Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. with volunteers available to answer YOUR concerns! Call Team Clark @ 404-892-8227.


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Clark Howard About the author:
Clark Howard is a consumer expert whose goal is to help you keep more of the money you make. His national radio show and website show you ways to put more money in your pocket, with advice you can trust. More about Clark
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