Identity theft is at an all-time high, with the number of victims growing 8% to 16.7 million Americans in 2017 according to Javelin Strategy & Research. The amount stolen hit $16.8 billion last year, according to Javelin.
Given the sobering stats, many Americans are wondering if placing a freeze on their credit is the best way to protect themselves from identity theft—others are understandably concerned about the cost.
Currently, the fees and requirements for adding and removing a freeze vary by state. You have to contact all three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and Transunion—separately to freeze your credit files, and each firm has different fees for this service.
While a security freeze is designed to prevent credit from being approved in your name without your consent, the alert may delay the approval time of any pending applications made regarding a new loan, credit, mortgage, or even rental housing. If you are actively seeking credit, try to plan ahead in order to lift a freeze before actually applying so your application process isn’t slowed down.
One alternative to freezing your credit is Experian CreditLock, which is a benefit that comes with your Experian CreditWorksSM or IdentityWorksSM membership. Experian CreditLock “locks” your credit report, so that potential creditors can’t access your credit file. But when you need credit and want a lender or other business to have access to your credit report, you can simply unlock your credit report from your Experian app.
But if you’re convinced freezing your report is the way to go, the good news is there are some circumstances where you can get a credit freeze for free.
When Can I Get a Free Credit Freeze?
You can obtain a free credit freeze (also known as a security freeze) based on the current laws in your state, the circumstance in which you may need to place a credit freeze, and your age.
In many states, if you submit a valid investigative or incident report (FTC Identity Theft report), complaint with a law enforcement agency (such as your local Police department) or the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the fee will be waived. Some states waive the fee if you are older than 65 or younger than 16. Fees may also be waived if you an active member of the military as well.
Make sure to check as each state has different additional protections that entitle you to a free security freeze, including:
- You are the spouse of an identity theft victim or suspect you or your spouse are a victim of identity theft and requires an identity theft report.
- Your passport was stolen.
- You are older than 65 years of ages (62 in some states).
- You are under the age of 16 (18 in some states).
- You are under 16 years of age and incapacitated or for whom a court or other authority has appointed a guardian or conservator.
- You are under 16 years of age and in a foster care setting.
- You are an active military member.
- You are a victim of domestic violence.
See also: Credit Freeze Fees by State
How to File an Identity Theft Report
There are a few ways to get documentation when you are the confirmed victim of theft so you can get your free freeze, including:
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Identity Theft Report: visit IdentityTheft.gov and the site walks you through the steps to take depending on your situation (reporting identity theft, reporting tax fraud, etc.).
- Police Report: if you are the confirmed identity theft victim, you can file a police report with your local police department.
- US Postal Service Report: if you are the victim of mail theft or mail fraud, you can file a mail theft complaint.
The Details on a Credit Freeze
Be aware that certain fees may apply for placing and removing a credit freeze. You can initiate a freeze, lift a freeze when it’s no longer needed or thaw your credit depending on the actions you may need to take. Here are some more details:
- Freezes are permanent or last for seven years, depending on your state.
- You can decide to thaw frozen credit temporarily or remove the freeze whenever you choose.
- Situations where you may decide to thaw or unfreeze your credit include when you need to apply for specific credit applications or loans.
- There are other situations when frozen credit cannot be accessed by another party including when you need to rent an apartment, purchase a cell phone, or process employment verification.
What Is a Fraud Alert?
If you’re looking for an alternative to a credit freeze, consider a fraud alert. Although a fraud alert won’t shut off complete access to your credit like a freeze does, it will tell anyone who runs your credit that they should check with you before opening a new account. Initial fraud alerts are free but they end after 90 days unless you extend them.
Depending on the state and the manner in which you placed the credit freeze—meaning if one of the special situations described above does not apply to you—then you may have to pay a fee to thaw your credit each time. Again make sure to check your state laws to see if or when you can receive a freeze for free.
Here are additional stories to help you understand more about credit freezes, locks, and alerts: