In the summer of 2017, 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.
The breach lasted from mid-May through July, with hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. And they grabbed personal information of people in the UK and Canada too.
Free credit freezes are here
Thanks to a federal law passed in 2018, anyone that has data with the three credit reporting agencies can freeze their account with that agency.
Security freezes, also known as credit freezes, restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. As of September 21, 2018, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free. You also can get a free freeze for your children who are under 16. And if you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can get a free freeze for that person, too.
How will these freezes work? Contact all three of the nationwide credit reporting agencies listed in the matrix below. If you request a freeze online or by phone, the agency must place the freeze within one business day. When requesting a lift of the freeze, the agency must lift it within one hour. If you make your request by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days after it gets your request. You can lift the freeze temporarily without a fee at any time.
Don’t confuse freezes with locks. They work in a similar way, but locks may have monthly fees. If you want a free freeze guaranteed by federal law, then opt for a freeze, not a lock.
Request Your Credit Freeze for Free
Placing a security freeze on your credit reports can block an identity thief from opening a new account or getting credit in your name. Setting up and managing security freezes are free of charge.
To establish your security freezes, you will need to contact each of the three credit bureaus. The links below will direct you to the credit bureaus webpage with instructions or you can go directly to their online form:
|Online Form||Online Form||Online Form|
(Note: The links above will take you to the websites for the three credit bureaus.)
Be prepared to provide detailed information about yourself, including:
- Your Full Name
- Your Address
- Your Date of Birth
- Your Social Security Number
(Note: The credit bureaus already have this information in their files.
You will be providing it to verify your identity.)
Keep Your PINs or Passwords Safe
When you freeze your credit, the company will send you confirmation of the placement of the freeze along with information on how to remove the freeze, including any authentication information you will need, such as a PIN (Personal Identification Number) or password. The information should be sent to you no later than five business days after placing the freeze. Make sure to keep this authentication information in a safe place.
Lifting or Removing Your Freeze
When it’s time to apply for new credit or loan, you will need to temporarily lift the freeze online, with each of the credit bureaus, for the lender to be able to pull your credit. Some employers do back ground checks that include a credit check, this would be another reason to temporarily lift a credit freeze.
You can request that a freeze be lifted for a specified period of time or removed by making the request to each of the credit bureaus and providing proper identification. The credit bureaus must lift or remove a freeze one hour after receiving the request when the consumer makes the request by telephone or online. If the request is made by mail, the credit bureaus must lift or remove the freeze within 3 days after receiving such a request.