How to Freeze Your Credit to Prevent Identity Theft
A security freeze enables you to freeze access to your credit so it cannot be easily stolen. Once in place, it prevents creditors from opening new accounts in your name without your permission.
How to Place a Security FreezeTo request a security freeze you must contact each credit bureau individually. Your request must be sent by certified mail or can be completed online. You must also provide proof of your identity with the request.
Once requested, the credit reporting agencies must place the security freeze within five business days and send you written confirmation of the freeze within ten business days. The confirmation must include a unique personal identification number or password you can use to release your credit information to selected companies. If you issue authorization to a company to access your reports, authorization is limited to a specific party for a specific amount of time.
How to Unlock A Security FreezeUnlocking the credit freeze takes time so plan ahead. To unlock the freeze simply call or write to the credit bureaus with your request. They must remove the freeze within three business days if your request was sent by mail or within 15 minutes if you requested removal by telephone or online.
If you only want the freeze lifted for a specific creditor or for a specific amount of time simply specify that in your request. The time a freeze can be lifted can range from one day to one year.
Comparison to Fraud AlertsThere are several critical differences between a security freeze and fraud alerts. Security freezes completely lock down your credit so no new credit can be extended. Fraud alerts similarly prevent creditors from obtaining access to your credit but are more of a cautionary flag than a complete lock down. Fraud alerts are also available only to victims of identity theft or security breaches. In contrast, credit freezes are available to anyone.
The downside is that there is a fee to both place and remove a credit freeze. In some states those fees are waived to victims of identity theft. Fraud alerts are always free.
Credit freezes are specific to individual credit bureaus so you can lock down one at a time whereas fraud alerts automatically prevent access to all three credit bureaus.
The time frames are also somewhat different. A credit freeze lasts for up to seven years but a fraud alert only lasts 90 days. Victims of identity theft with a police report and other documentation, however, can request an extended fraud alert which will then last for seven years.