You may be familiar with the “Big 3”, but did you know there are FOUR credit bureaus? They are Equifax, Experian, Innovis and TransUnion. (These are links to their credit freeze websites, safe to click and share.) Always be wary of scammers sending fake links.
What a security freeze will do is prevent anyone from accessing your credit report. So, if a scammer tries to open a new line of credit using your name, date of birth, and social security number, when the lender tries to pull your credit report, it’ll say it’s blocked and that you have to contact the credit bureau. Note: it will NOT say the report is frozen; this is part of the security feature.
Each of these four credit bureaus will give you a 6-digit number (PIN) that you can use to unfreeze or “thaw” your reports. You should hide this PIN somewhere where you won’t lose it – because if you do, your accounts will be stuck as frozen.
If YOU want to open an account, you’ll have to contact the credit bureau ahead of time (either on the phone or online) and thaw your account for a little while. You will need that 6-digit PIN you set for the bureaus to thaw or unfreeze your reports. You can set the temporary thaw either for a period of time or for a particular creditor. For example, if you know you’re going to be looking for a car over the next week, call the bureaus and thaw your report for that week. Or, if you are applying for a credit card, call and unfreeze your report for that particular company, and then turn the freeze back on. You can also completely remove the freeze if you determine that you don’t want the protection any longer.
Depending on your state of residence and your circumstances, you may have to pay a small fee to place a freeze at each bureau. The fee ranges from $0 to $15 per bureau, meaning that it can cost upwards of $60 to place a freeze at all four credit bureaus (recommended). There may also be fees associated with thawing your account – check with your lender to see which bureau they use to avoid multiple thaw fees.
Using credit freezes like this is a little more trouble and inconvenience in your life, but it’s better than the alternative – cleaning up your credit after your identity has been stolen. Prevention is better than a cure.