I have a credit freeze. If someone tries to establish credit without my PIN code, what is the exact response they get from you? Do you tell them that they cannot establish new credit because the account is frozen?
Experian will not notify an identity thief that your credit report is frozen, but the lender they applied with will receive a notice that Experian could not provide a credit report because the credit file is frozen.
Experian does not approve or decline applications, so we would not tell the lender that new credit could not be established. That is the lender's decision.
What Is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze is a tool that prevents potential new lenders from accessing your credit report without you first lifting the freeze. It is a tool used by victims of identity theft to help prevent new accounts being opened in their name without their permission.
You can request a security freeze to be added to your credit report at Experian's online Freeze Center, by phone at 888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742), or by sending a request by mail to Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
Keep in mind that a credit freeze is not the only fraud prevention tool available to consumers who have had their information compromised. Another option is to add a security alert or a fraud victim statement. Locking your credit can also limit who has access to your file.
You can use Experian CreditLock to lock your Experian file and get real-time alerts if someone applies for credit in your name while the lock is in place. Similar services are offered by Equifax and TransUnion.
Temporary security alerts and fraud victim statements work in a very similar way to stop identity thieves from opening fraudulent accounts. Lenders receive the statements with the credit report, alerting them that you may be or are a victim and directing them to verify the identity of the applicant and contact you before opening a new account.
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act requires lenders to respond to those alerts. The result is that the transaction is halted until the identity of the applicant can be verified.
The system of alerts and file freezing provides several levels of protection:
- Temporary alert: The temporary initial alert lasts for 12 months and notifies anyone accessing your credit report that someone may be trying to apply for credit in your name. An example of when you might need a temporary alert is when a computer containing your sensitive personal information is lost or your car or home is broken into and sensitive documents are taken.
- Fraud victim statement: If you learn that someone has in fact used your identity, you can take the next step, which is adding a fraud victim statement. To do so, you must first file a valid identity theft report or police report and submit it to Experian. The victim statement is precisely that—a statement that you are a victim of identity theft. It remains on your credit report for seven years.
In most instances, a victim statement will provide the protection a victim needs while still allowing access to credit they want. A victim statement will delay the application process while a lender verifies your identity but will not prevent a lender from accessing your credit history to finish processing a legitimate application.
- Credit freeze: The most drastic option is freezing your credit file. Freezing your credit file means that you will first need to unfreeze, or thaw, your credit history to apply for credit and other services that require a review of your credit history. To do so, you will need to make the request in advance and provide a PIN provided by Experian. If you have frozen your credit files with Equifax and TransUnion, you will need to contact them separately to lift the freeze with them as well.
In some cases, you may not have your PIN available or be able to lift the freeze quickly enough, which could cause a delay in being able to get the credit or services you need.
Who Can Access a Frozen Credit File?
A credit freeze works by essentially blocking potential lenders from accessing your credit report unless you lift the freeze in advance or request a single-use PIN that provides them access.
However, there are a number of exceptions that allow some entities to still view your credit history, even with a freeze in place. The exceptions include:
- Lenders with whom you already do business
- Landlords or leasing companies associated with a rental application
- Utility companies
- Debt collection companies
- Child support enforcement agencies
- Auto insurance companies
- Potential employers whom you have already given written permission to
- Government agencies
What Happens When Someone Tries to Access Your Frozen Credit?
When a potential lender tries to access your frozen credit report, they will be notified that Experian cannot release your credit history because there is a freeze in place. Because of that, the application process likely will not be able to be completed by the lender, so the identity thief would be unable to open a new account in your name.
The lender may tell the identity thief that the application cannot proceed because the file is frozen. And, thinking the identity thief is you, may ask them to unfreeze the credit file, which is how the identity thief could learn the file is frozen. However, without the right PIN, the identity thief would be unable to lift the freeze, stopping the attempted new credit application.
Thanks for asking.
Jennifer White, Consumer Education Specialist