Getting Comfortable With The Basics

Freezing Credit Is Now Free.

Freezing Credit Is Now Free. Here’s Why You Should Do it Now.

Turning on a credit freeze is now more straightforward and more friendly to activate and temporally lift than ever. Placing a security freeze on your account makes it difficult for criminals to use stolen data to open fraudulent accounts, or borrow money, in your name.

Credit bureaus gather and hold records of your accounts and payment history that credit card companies and lending institutions use to decide whether you'll pay your bills. If your credit file is frozen, the bureaus won't provide information to lenders unless you “thaw” the freeze first, using a (PIN) personal identification number.

Under the current federal law, credit freezes are now free nationally for everyone. The three primary credit reporting bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion, and Experian now provide free credit freeze and un-freeze service. For credit freezes work effectively freeze must be placed at all three bureaus.

Free security freezes have been made available more than a year after the massive data breach at Equifax. It compromised the personal information, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, and other personal details, of over 145 million people, almost half of the United States population. Even with the scale of that breach, and many other incidents, security freezes have not caught on. An AARP survey found that less than 1 in 6 people had frozen their credit files.

Consumers realized that the breach created risk, but didn't think anything would happen to them, people tend to underestimate their own risk. 

The credit freeze process is not as easy as it could be, consumers are required to place freezes at the three bureaus separately, and keep track of three PINs. It’s not possible to know what credit bureau a lender might use; consumers usually must lift the freezes at all three bureaus when applying for new credit.

The three credit bureaus now provide smartphone apps, that consumers can use to freeze and thaw their credit more easily. They are available for both Apple and Android phones (At this time I can only recommend the TransUnion apps, the other two bureaus apps try to upsell to paid products). Consumers need to be careful when using the website and apps; they may be used to market other, fee-based products and services. You do not have to pay credit freezes are now entirely free.

Credit bureaus also offer s service called a credit “lock,” they promote as a more convenient way to protect your data. However, some of these offerings carry fees. Most consumer advocates favor freezes because the rules are set by law, rather than by the credit bureaus themselves.

It's also recommended freezing your file at a less well-known reporting agency the National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange (NCTUE). They provide credit information to some cellphone, pay television and utility companies. (Consumers have had cellphone accounts opened in their names, even with freezes on their credit reports at the main bureaus.) There is no cost for an NCTUE freeze.

The law allows parents to create and freeze credit files for their children under 16, to prevent their identities from being used fraudulently. Information on how to protect your children's accounts is offered by the Federal Trade Commission.

Freezes will not protect you from all types of fraud, like a criminal using existing credit card numbers, or pretending as you online to claim your Social Security benefits. To help prevent those types of theft, check your credit card statements regularly for questionable charges You should set up and monitor an online Social Security account, to prevent criminals from opening one first and diverting your benefit checks. 

You should check your credit report periodically. Each of the three credit bureaus must provide one free report a year at annualcreditreport.com. (Having a security freeze will not prevent you from getting your free annual report the FTC tells you how.) I suggest getting a report from one of the three bureaus every 4 months, on a rotating basis. These reports will help you to keep an eye on your credit reports for free by only accessing each bureau one time a year.

Identity thieves can intercept new credit and insurances offers sent through US Postal mail to get your ID information. You can opt out of receiving offers these offers for 5 years online or permanently if you use the mail-in form. 

Visit optoutprescreen.com you can choose to opt out for 5 years online or download a mail-in form to be permanently removed from the pre-approved credit and insurance offers.

Visit these websites to set up security freezes:

In addition to the big three bureaus, you might also consider freezing access at the two smaller ones. 


Identity theft resources at the FTC website

Protecting Your Identity

  • Credit Freeze FAQs – If you’re concerned about identity theft, data breaches, or someone gaining access to your credit report without your permission, you might consider placing a credit freeze on your report.
  • Financial Readiness in Times of Disaster – You’ve got batteries, a tank of gas, and water. Are your financial papers and personal documents stored safely in case of an emergency?
  • How to Keep Your Personal Information Secure – Safeguard your personal information, whether it is on paper, online, or on your computers and mobile devices.
  • Identity Theft Protection Services – Describes identity theft protection services you can buy and free and low-cost alternatives you can use to guard against identity theft and recover if identity theft occurs.

Discovering Identity Theft

  • Identity Theft – Here's an overview of what to know and do about identity theft.
  • Warning Signs of Identity Theft – Warning signs include credit or debit charges you don’t recognize, bills for accounts you didn’t open, and IRS notices that say you filed multiple tax returns.

Identity Theft: Specific Issues


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