Consumer Reports

Financial advocates encourage consumers to freeze their credit without charge. This free step is one of the most effective ways to stop identity theft.

What is a credit freeze?

Free credit freezes became available through financial legislation put in place after the major Equifax breach that affected millions. A freeze on your credit makes it hard for someone to open fraudulent new accounts in your name. Credit bureaus house records of your accounts and payment history which lenders and credit companies use to decide whether you are likely to stay on top of your credit.

When a security freeze is in place, the bureaus will not provide information to lenders unless you thaw the freeze using a unique personal identification number.

How to freeze

The Federal Trade Commission has made links available to freeze your credit online through each of the three credit bureaus’ freeze websites. In order to open a new line of credit or to allow a credit inquiry on your account, you must then thaw your credit. Thawing your credit is also a free service.

One inconvenience to the process is that consumers must place freezes separately at all three bureaus, and keep track of three different PINs. Because a lender could use any of the three credit bureaus to open an account, consumers must also lift the freezes at all three bureaus when they are applying for new credit.

Always Check Your Credit

Freezes will not protect you from all types of fraud. It’s always recommended consumers still check their credit regularly. Thieves can still use a credit card number you already have or can impersonate you online. Setting up security monitoring on your Social Security account is also recommended.

Everyone is entitled to one free credit report by the major three bureaus per year. Consumers may download the reports for free online. Having a security freeze in place will not affect your ability to download a free copy of your annual report. Stay on top of your credit and identity by regular monitoring and exploring the free credit freezes available.