After a major data breach, many people consider freezing their credit reports. It’s not a bad idea, if you don’t need access to your credit right away. It can give you peace of mind if someone does get a hold of your social security number or other information. Social Security numbers cannot be replaced like a credit card number. Credit cards can be replaced and in your hands in a few days, but your SSN is with you for life. It can take years and cost untold thousands to clean up the mess. Tragically, this can happen over and over in your life.
Freezing your credit is the best way to prevent new accounts from being opened with your SSN but it does not protect existing bank accounts or credit cards. This is where credit monitoring services step in. They watch over your SSN and current accounts and notify you about new activity.
What is a Credit Freeze? A credit freeze will prevent anyone from viewing your credit file and reports or opening credit in your name. When you apply for a credit card, a loan, or even living quarters, you are evaluated based on your credit file. The freeze prevents it from being released from the major credit bureaus.
Activating a Freeze: You must contact each of the bureaus independently to add a freeze. Visit their websites to do this or contact them by telephone at the numbers they list on their websites. Some states allow them to charge a fee to do this, but it is usually worth it.
Information You Will Need: To place a freeze, the bureaus will ask for some information:
- Your name
- Your Social Security number
- Your birthdate
- Your current address
- Your former address
- A payment card (in some cases)
- A PIN that you choose to lift or reapply a freeze
Freezing and Unfreezing Your Credit File: You can still get access to your file after a freeze is put on it. You just have to contact the bureaus to do so. Check with them as to lead-time for temporarily unfreezing and refreezing and if there are any fees associated with doing so. Just be aware that this process may delay any approvals for credit. Each company has three days to lift your freeze once they receive your request.
How Long Does a Credit Freeze Last? A freeze will stay on your reports until you lift them.
Can an Attacker Unfreeze My File If He or She Has My Information? No one can freeze or unfreeze your file unless he or she also has your PIN associated with the freeze.
Remember that credit monitoring and identity theft recovery services do not prevent fraud. They will alert you if someone tries to access your credit or if something looks amiss, or assist you to repair your identity in the case of identity theft. These services will not monitor your payment card purchases either. You will need to monitor your charges separately.
Also, within the days after the Equifax breach, all three bureaus were reporting such high demand for credit freezes that it was rumored they were asking for people to send their requests via U.S. Mail.
Contact information for Major Credit Bureaus to place a freeze or to unfreeze: