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Topics addressed on June 25, 2008:
File freezes must be placed with each credit reporting agency
As of today, I have confirmation of a security freeze from Experian. Is it necessary to place a security freeze at Equifax and TransUnion, or is it done automatically?
You must submit requests to freeze your credit report separately to each of the national credit reporting companies. Unlike initial fraud security alerts and fraud victim statements, the credit reporting companies do not share requests to freeze your credit file.
You can add both an initial fraud security alert and fraud victim statement free if you have reason to believe you are at increased fraud risk or are have evidence that you are a victim of fraud. Experian will share those alerts with TransUnion and Equifax.
Fraud alerts and victim statements have long been included in the Fair Credit Reporting Act and were created to protect consumers who were at high risk of credit fraud, such as someone who had lost a purse or wallet, or whose information was lost in a security breach, or to help a person who was a victim recover from credit fraud resulting from the identity theft.
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, best known for providing for a free credit report each year, also requires lenders to respond in a reasonable manner to fraud alerts and victim statements. As a result of the FACT Act, the alerts cannot be ignored, which greatly enhances their effectiveness.
Freezing your credit file is a voluntary action that you must take separately with each credit reporting company. They aren’t shared because there is sometimes a fee involved and the processes for placing and lifting the freeze are different with each company.
Your credit file cannot be accessed by anyone unless you first remove the freeze using a PIN number provided by the credit reporting company. The PIN will be different for each company. Before applying for credit you must request that the freeze be removed so that the business can access your credit report.
When you freeze your credit file you essentially are removing yourself from the credit marketplace. File freezing can be a good option for victims of identity theft who have ongoing or repetitive credit fraud resulting from the identity theft.
Be aware that alerts and file freezes can cause delays or inconvenience when applying for credit. You may be required to provide additional identifying information to ensure you are who you claim to be or be available to receive a call to confirm your identity.
If you forget to remove a freeze, or lose your PIN, the application process can be slowed while the freeze is removed or a new PIN is issued. Such a delay can be particularly important when applying for a mortgage loan.
Credit reports may be checked multiple times during the mortgage lending process. A frozen credit file could prevent access during the process and interest rates could increase during the delay, costing thousands of dollars.
That is why I caution people to give careful thought to freezing their credit file. You need to be certain it is the right action for you because it is an extreme measure that isn’t the right choice for everyone.
Thanks for asking.
- The "Ask Experian" team