Placing a freeze on your credit report is now free for everyone in the United States. On September 21, 2018, a new nationwide law made it free for you to freeze, thaw or unfreeze your credit report. A credit freeze is designed to prevent credit from being approved in your name. Previously, fees varied by state for adding and removing a credit freeze.
What Is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, can help protect you from fraud and identity theft. Once a freeze is placed on your credit report, no one can get access to your credit file unless you lift the freeze using the personal identification number (PIN) given to you.
This restricted access also means that you need to lift your freeze for lenders and other companies to get access to your credit report, such as a credit card provider, insurance company, cell phone provider or even a potential employer that uses employment reports for background screening.
How Can I Place a Free Credit Freeze?
You can place a free credit freeze on your Experian credit report through the Experian Freeze Center or by calling 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742). Each credit reporting agency, like Experian, has a web page where you can request security freezes and fraud alerts. You may also submit your request by mail.
How Can I Lift a Credit Freeze?
You can lift a credit freeze (sometimes referred to as "thawing" your credit report) anytime online or over the phone. After placing the credit freeze, you will receive a confirmation with a personal identification number (PIN) that must be provided to lift or remove the freeze moving forward.
How Long Does It Take to Lift a Credit Freeze?
To unfreeze your credit, simply go back to the same sites where you froze your file, enter your PIN and your credit will be unfrozen within one hour. It is still recommended to plan ahead, especially if you have lost your PIN because the credit bureaus will need to verify your identity.
When Should I Freeze My Credit?
You should consider freezing your credit if you are a victim of identity theft. Even if you only suspect you are a victim of identity theft but are not certain, it can still be useful to place a freeze on your credit file.
You may also consider freezing your credit file if:
- You are receiving bills or collection notices under your name or another name at your address that aren't yours.
- You see new inquiries on your credit report from businesses that you didn't provide permission.
- Your bank notifies you about a fraud incident on your account.
- You receive a company notification letter where you are or could be a victim of a data breach.
Who Can Access My Frozen Credit Report?
While a freeze prevents access to the vast majority of inquiries, a report can still be pulled for these reasons:
- If you want to view your own credit report.
- Account review by creditors with a pre-existing relationship.
- Background screening by a landlord or rental agency.
- Phone and utility companies.
- Debt collection agencies trying to collect payment.
- Child support agency with the purpose of determining child support.
- Prescreening offer of credit.
- Underwriting insurance for yourself.
- For employment or with potential employers that you granted permission.
- Government agency acting according to a court order or warrant.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act states that the national credit bureaus, like Experian, are required to keep a record of who has accessed your credit file. So when a creditor, landlord or other company looks at your credit report, there will be a record of that action. Any unfamiliar inquiries may be a sign of identity theft or attempted fraud.
Can I Freeze My Child's Credit Report?
Yes, you can add a freeze to your children's credit report if they are under the age of 16. If a credit report exists, the new law allows parents to freeze the credit report of a child under the age of 16. While a child should not have a credit report, the credit bureaus can create one for the child and then freeze it.
Someone seeking to freeze a report for an individual under 16 will need evidence that they have the authority to make a request. That evidence can include:
- An order issued by a court of law.
- A lawfully executed and valid power of attorney.
- A document issued by a federal, state, or local government agency in the United States showing proof that you are the parent(s).
- A birth certificate.
Regarding protected consumers who have been placed in a foster care setting:
- A written communication from a county welfare department or its agent or designee.
- A county probation department or its agent or designee, certifying that the protected consumer is in a foster care setting under its jurisdiction.
Free Fraud Alerts Are Extended
The new law also extends an existing free consumer protection—an initial fraud alert—from 90 days to 12 months. Consumers who activated a 90-day fraud alert with Experian will be automatically extended to one year from the date their fraud alert was initiated. Also, if you place a fraud alert at one of the three credit reporting companies, the fraud alert will be added at the other two companies automatically.
Consumers may also request a free, 7-year fraud alert called a "Victim Statement" by providing a police report or other valid identity theft report. Both alerts indicate the individual has been a victim of identity theft or fraud and strongly suggest to lenders that they verify the identity of the individual before extending credit.
When Should I Add a Fraud Alert?
You should consider adding a fraud alert if one or more of the following happens to you:
- You believe you are or have been a victim of fraud.
- There is information in your credit report that doesn't belong to you.
- There are unexplained transactions or withdrawals in your bank account(s).
- You receive notification from a company that your account security has been breached.
- You don't recognize notifications from collection agencies or the IRS.
Lock Your Credit
An alternative to freezing your credit is to lock your credit file at Experian. Experian CreditLock lets you control access to your credit file by "locking" it when you choose, preventing potential creditors or identity thieves from gaining access your credit file.
You can unlock your credit report when you want to, such as when you need to grant a lender or other business access to your credit report. You will also receive real-time alerts if someone tries to apply for credit in your name while your credit file is locked. All of this can be done instantly through an app on your phone or on Experian's web site.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
This article was originally published on September 24, 2018, and has been updated.