How To Freeze Your Credit Report

The potential for becoming a victim of identity theft is greater than ever before. In fact, some figures estimate that as many as 15 million Americans personally experience some form of this crime each year. Cleaning up the mess that comes along with identity theft is likely to be a lengthy, troublesome process.

confused woman

You’re bound to spend an excessive amount of time on the phone in an attempt to get your money back and get your credit to return to normal. You’ll have to call the companies where the fraud occurred and place a fraud alert on all 3 of your credit reports. Luckily, there’s a way to prevent going through this hassle.

A simple tool called a credit freeze can save you the headache of dealing with identity theft by potentially stopping it from happening altogether. Read on to find out more about a credit freeze and why you need one.

What is a credit freeze?

A credit freeze (also known as a credit report freeze or security freeze) allows you to restrict lenders and credit card companies from accessing your credit information. This helps to stop identity theft because it prevents anyone from applying for loans or credit cards until you lift the freeze.

For example, let’s say an identity thief submits a credit card application using your social security number. The credit card company will most likely try to access your credit history to gauge how likely you are to make your monthly payments.

If you have a credit freeze in place, they won’t be able to access that information. They will deny the identity thief’s application.

When you have a security freeze in place, there are still a couple of situations in which your credit report may be accessed. Your existing creditors or their debt collectors can still access the information. Government agencies who have received authorization from a court order, subpoena, or search warrant can also.

However, since these companies and agencies aren’t associated with opening new lines of credit under your name, you don’t have to worry about identity theft in these situations.

What is a credit lock?

A credit lock is similar to a credit freeze. It allows you to restrict access from most lenders. However, it allows you to unlock your credit report at any time. It can be done immediately on your computer or mobile device.

So, what’s the difference? The main difference is that it’s easier to unlock a credit lock than it is to unfreeze a credit freeze. A credit freeze requires the use of a password-protected account or PIN number.

Why freeze your credit?

Freezing your credit report is a smart move because it offers credit protection even if your personal information has been compromised. That being said, you should consider freezing your credit report even if you’re not aware of your personal information being stolen.

It’s an easy step to take care of in advance of potential identity theft and is important to do because you may not even know that your information has been stolen.

Security Breaches

Major companies around the world are constantly being attacked by hackers in an attempt to steal credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other personal information. To make matters worse, they may not even know about the compromised information until well after the attack has happened.

For example, 80 million members and employees of health insurance company Anthem had their social security numbers stolen in early December 2014.

However, Anthem didn’t even realize the data breach had occurred until late January of 2015 and didn’t make any announcements for another week. That’s nearly two months where millions of consumers’ credit reports were available to identity thieves without them even knowing it.

Anthem eventually offered credit monitoring services to members. However, having a simple security freeze in place would’ve provided an additional level of security, particularly during those first two months of ignorance.

How does a credit freeze affect your credit score?

Implementing a credit freeze does not affect your credit whatsoever. In fact, the only effect that it has on your credit score is keeping it intact against potential threats from thieves.

A security freeze also doesn’t prevent you from receiving your free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. You can still request that information each year through AnnualCreditReport.com.

You’ll also still receive prescreened credit offers when you have a credit freeze in place, however, you can still opt out of those.

Another important point to note is that credit freezes only restricts lenders’ access to your credit report. It does not in any way monitor your bank or credit card activity. So, you still need to keep an eye on those transactions to make sure there is no suspicious activity.

Many banks will often set up alerts to detect odd spending patterns in your accounts, but you shouldn’t strictly rely on them to keep track of your money. Identity thieves opening new accounts in your name and using current accounts are two separate crimes. Therefore, they must be monitored and treated differently.

How much does it cost to freeze your credit?

The cost of a credit freeze depends on a few different things but is generally decided by the state in which you live. If you’ve already been the victim of identity theft, then the security freeze is usually free.

Many states also offer this service for free to seniors over 65 years old. Otherwise, the costs typically range between $3 and $10. Unfortunately, you have to pay the fee for each individual credit bureau. So, realistically the total fees can range anywhere between $9 and $30.

You’ll also be charged fees for lifting the freezes, either temporarily or permanently. These costs range from $2 to $10 for each agency. It may seem like the expenses associated with a credit freeze could add up quickly.

But in reality, they are quite minimal considering the time and cost of recovering misused funds and repairing your credit that has been hijacked by an identity thief.

How do you unfreeze your credit report?

There are two ways to lift a credit freeze: either temporarily or permanently. A temporary lift is used when you’re applying for a loan, a credit card, or even a job that requires an extensive background check.

Just be sure to plan in advance because it can take up to three business days after you submit the request for the agency to actually lift the security freeze.

To save yourself a bit of time and money, you can ask the lender or potential employer which credit reporting agency they plan on contacting. That way you can just lift that one specific credit freeze.

Permanent Lift

A permanent lift, as the name indicates, entirely removes the credit freeze from your credit report. Whichever option you choose, you’ll need your PIN. You should’ve received it in a confirmation letter when the freeze was initially put into place.

You’ll have separate PINs for each credit reporting agency so be sure to place all three in a secure location.

What happens if you lose your security PIN?

If you lose or misplace your security PIN for one (or all) of the three credit bureaus, you’ll need to individually contact each one in writing.

Along with your request, be sure to send a copy of your proof of identification, such as your driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport. There will likely be a fee assessed for sending you a new PIN. Fees typically range between $5 and $10 depending on your state.

What other things can you do to prevent identity theft?

There are three types of identity theft as categorized by the Bureau of Justice:

  • Unauthorized use of an existing account.
  • Unauthorized use of personal information to open a new account.
  • Misuse of personal information for fraudulent purposes.

Attempts at any of these actions also constitute fraud.

In addition to implementing a credit freeze, there are a few other proactive ways to prevent identity theft. The first is placing a fraud alert on your credit report.

Fraud Alerts

A fraud alert requires credit companies to verify your identity before offering any credit. To do this, the company will try to get in touch with you so make sure your contact information is up to date.

You only have to request a fraud alert from one credit reporting agency, and then that agency will notify the other two of your request. Fraud alerts are free for 90 days and can be renewed.

Credit Monitoring

Another option is to sign up for a credit monitoring service, which can track your credit activity, notify you of any changes to your credit score, or potentially both.

The exact services and costs vary depending on the company you select so do your research before choosing one. To help you out, we’ve created a roundup of the best credit monitoring services for 2021.

Final Thoughts

Identity theft has unfortunately become a common occurrence in the modern world. It’s becoming more and more likely that you’ll be affected by this criminal practice at some point in your life.

Protect your finances by taking proactive steps to fight against becoming a victim. While there are plenty of products and services available today, implementing a credit freeze is a simple, low-cost solution to prevent thieves from opening new accounts with your personal information.

How To Freeze Your Credit After The Equifax Hack

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A while back I heard some alarming news that one of the 3 credit bureaus, Equifax, had been the victim of a hacking attack.

While it’s always alarming when any company you use is hacked, when one of the credit reporting agencies themselves are attacked, it means the possibility for mischief are that much greater.

Not only do the bureaus have a large volume of data about your credit lives in their systems, they also have some very sensitive information that you don’t want out there.

They have information like your Social Security Number, addresses, drivers license numbers, credit card numbers and more. All of that can be used against you for years should the hackers decide to open fraudulent accounts in your name, claim fraudulent tax refunds and more.

With so many people affected by this hack it is more important than ever to pay close attention to your credit, and protect yourself against fraud.

Today I want to look at what you can do to protect yourself, and how to freeze your credit with all three agencies so that you can avoid becoming a victim.

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NYTimes:

Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies, said on Thursday that hackers had gained access to company data that potentially compromised sensitive information for 143 million American consumers, including Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers. The attack on the company represents one of the largest risks to personally sensitive information in recent years, and is the third major cybersecurity threat for the agency since 2015.

Equifax, based in Atlanta, is a particularly tempting target for hackers. If identity thieves wanted to hit one place to grab all the data needed to do the most damage, they would go straight to one of the three major credit reporting agencies. “This is about as bad as it gets,” said Pamela Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit research group. “If you have a credit report, chances are you may be in this breach. The chances are much better than 50 percent.”

In addition to the other material, hackers were also able to retrieve names, birth dates and addresses. Credit card numbers for 209,000 consumers were stolen, while documents with personal information used in disputes for 182,000 people were also taken.

Let that sink in folks. If you have a credit report, your chances of being affected by this breach are better than 50%. That means, it is time to take precautionary measures.

How To Check If You’re Affected By The Equifax Hack

Equifax Hack Are You Impacted

Equifax Hack Are You ImpactedEquifax has launched a website that tells you how to figure out whether your credit was affected, and what next steps to take. To figure out if your credit file was affected, go to their website here:

The site will ask for some identifying information (including last name and last 6 digits of Social Security Number), and after you confirm you’re not a robot, it will tell you if you’re affected.

One thing that should be noted, Equifax at time of publication was offering complimentary identity theft protection and credit file monitoring services, but as some users have mentioned, when you sign up for the service you are required to accept their terms of service which includes precluding yourself from participating in any class actions.

Some have suggested you may be better off just implementing a credit freeze, and using an alternate free credit monitoring service. I’ll mention a couple down at the bottom of the page.

What The FTC Suggests Doing In Light Of The Equifax Breach

The FTC lists some steps that they say you should take in light of a breach like the one at Equifax.

  • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
  • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
  • If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
  • File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.

So check your credit reports for free through the government site, place a freeze on your credit, monitor your existing accounts and make sure to file your taxes early so you don’t have attempted tax fraud like I did last year.

Filing A Claim In The Equifax Settlement

The FTC announced a settlement agreement with Equifax in July of 2019 for the breach. The agreement with the credit agency was for 700 million dollars.

So what does that mean for you?

If you were affected by the hack and can show how you lost money, you could be entitled to collect up to $20,000.

For most people that probably didn’t happen, but even if you didn’t suffer a loss, you may still be entitled to the following benefits if you were a victim of the breach:

  • 10 years of free credit monitoring or cash payment (If you already have credit monitoring through Credit Sesame, Credit Karma or another service you can receive up to $125 cash instead)
  • Reimbursement for the time you took putting in place preventative measures to deal with the breach. You could be entitled to $25/hr for up to 20 hours. That would include time spent putting credit freezes on your accounts, etc.

Since I was affected by the breach, and spent a couple of hours researching and putting in place credit freezes, I claimed 2 hours of reimbursement, along with $125 for credit monitoring.

To find out if you were affected by the breach and might be eligible to submit a claim, go to this website.

If you find that you are in fact eligible to submit a claim, you can do that through this page on the Equifax Breach Settlement site.

The claims deadline is 1/22/2020, so claims cannot be paid out until after that date.

A Fraud Alert Vs. Credit Lock Vs. Credit Freeze

There are a few things you can do when it comes to putting a hold on your credit. You can either place a temporary fraud alert on your credit reports, you can use a credit agency’s “credit lock” tool on your credit file, or you can place a permanent credit freeze (also known as a “security freeze”) on your report.

A credit freeze locks down your credit so that it can’t be accessed, a fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report as long as they take steps to verify your identity.

A credit lock is a relatively new feature offered by the credit agencies that is similar to a credit freeze, but it allows you to turn the lock on and off via an app or website.  The problem is that it doesn’t offer as many legal protections as a credit freeze, which has protections mandated by law, while a credit lock often comes baked in with arbitration agreements, and more. If choosing between a credit lock and credit freeze, opt for the credit freeze.

For fraud alerts, there are three types of fraud alerts you can get.  An initial fraud alert which is good for 90 days, an extended fraud alert of 7 years for victims of identity theft, or active duty military fraud alerts, for those who want to protect their credit while on active duty or deployed.

A fraud alert is free to put in place, and once you place a fraud alert with one company, that company must tell the other credit reporting agencies.  If you’re not sure you want to place a complete freeze on your credit, putting a fraud alert on your account now might be a decent, albeit less effective, alternative.

Place A Fraud Alert

How To Freeze Your Credit

Let’s say you don’t just want to place a fraud alert on your credit file since creditors can still access your file. If you want to do a complete lockdown on your credit and restrict access to your credit report altogether, you can put in place a credit freeze.

A credit freeze will not affect your credit score, and won’t keep you from getting new credit accounts as you can temporarily lift the freeze to get new credit. It simply restricts access to your credit report unless you give notice to allow access.

Freeze Your Credit For Free With The Big 3 Credit Agencies (And 1 Additional Agency)

To freeze your credit, go to each of the agencies and fill out their forms.  It’s now free to do.

In the past freezing your credit was not typically free with the three big agencies. A freeze could cost between $5-10 in most cases.

As of Sept. 21, 2018, however, freezing your credit is now free in all 50 states as is mandated by federal law. 

Once you place your credit freeze the credit reporting company may send you a confirmation letter containing a unique PIN number or password. Keep that PIN in a safe place as you’ll need it to lift the freeze in the future.

Lifting A Credit Freeze

A credit freeze will remain in place until you ask the credit reporting agency to temporarily lift or remove it. Once you make the request to lift a freeze the new law mandates that credit freeze be lifted in less than 1 hour.   Just to be careful, however, you may want to plan ahead and lift the freeze a few days in advance just in case something happens.

If you’re lifting the credit freeze because you’re applying for credit or a job, you can often find out which reporting agency the business will contact, and lift the freeze only with that company to save money.

Always Monitor Your Credit

When it comes down to it, you’re the best person to be keeping tabs on your own credit. And if you get a little help doing it via a credit monitoring service or government site, so be it.

  • Check your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com: This free service will allow you to check your credit report from each of the 3 big credit bureaus once per year. Stagger checking them every 4 months like I do and you’ll have a better chance of finding problems or fraud accounts being opened.
  • Sign up for free credit monitoring services: Sign up for credit monitoring services with free sites like Credit Sesame and Credit Karma. They’ll send you alerts when changes  are made to your credit file, keeping you up to date on what’s going on with your credit.
  • Put a freeze on your credit: Put a freeze on your credit through the pages linked above, and ensure that new accounts aren’t opened using your name and information. It’s now free to do so there’s no reason not to do it.
  • Keep tabs on your existing accounts: Make sure to keep tabs on your existing accounts, and make sure no fraudulent charges are made. If you can put in place alerts on your credit cards/etc to ensure you get notified of out of the ordinary charges.

Have you placed a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit report? What was your reason for placing a freeze?

How To Freeze Your Credit After The Equifax Hack

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Source: biblemoneymatters.com

Boost Your Credit Score: 8 Helpful Credit Monitoring Apps

October 16, 2019 &• 4 min read by Farnoosh Torabi Comments 2 Comments

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Disclaimer

Maintaining a healthy credit score requires a good bit of focus, determination and hard work. There’s a lot to keep up with: We need to pay our bills on time, reduce debt and maintain a low debt-to-credit ratio, among other requirements—all to ensure a top-notch credit score. We can use all the help we can get! To that end, here are eight credit monitoring apps that can help keep your credit building on track.

1. Credit.com

One of the only truly free credit monitoring apps—most others require you to have a paid subscription to their digital service in order to use the “free” app—the Credit.com mobile app allows you to access your entire credit profile, including your credit score and insight into how it compares to your peers. You’ll see where you currently stand, see how your score has changed—and why—and get credit information and money-saving tips tailored to your score.

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Availability: Apple and Android

Cost: Free

2. myFICO

The myFICO app is free, but it requires an active myFICO account, which means it effectively costs $20 per month or more, depending on which features you want. With this app, though, you can view and monitor your FICO scores—the most widely used credit score—and credit reports. They also provide a FICO Score Simulator, which shows you how your score may be affected if you take certain actions.

Availability: Apple and Android

Cost: Free, but requires an active myFICO account

3. Lock & Alert from Equifax

Lock & Alert from Equifax lets you lock and unlock your Equifax credit report to protect against identity theft and fraud. You’ll get an alert any time your account is locked or unlocked so you know you’re the one in control. A credit lock is not as secure as a credit freeze, but it does offer some level of protection and is generally easier to turn on and off. This app works only for your Equifax credit report, so if you want to lock all three reports, you’ll have to work with TransUnion and Experian separately.

Availability: Apple and Android

Cost: Free

4. Experian

The Experian mobile credit monitoring app lets you track your Experian credit report and FICO score, with an automatically updated credit report every 30 days. The app also comes with Experian Boost, which can help you boost your score. The app alerts you when changes to your report or score occur, and offers suggested credit cards based on your FICO score.

Availability: Apple and Android

Cost: Free, but some features require a paid Experian account

5. Lexington Law

If you’ve signed up for credit repair services with Lexington Law, you can use their free mobile app to keep track of your progress. In addition to providing access to your credit reports from all three credit bureaus and updates on ongoing disputes, the money manager feature, similar to Mint, helps you track your income, spending, budgets and debts.

Availability: Apple and Android

Cost: Free, but requires a paid Lexington Law account

6. TransUnion

The TransUnion mobile app allows you to refresh your credit score and credit report daily to see where you stand. It offers instant alerts if anything changes and offers Credit Lock Plus, which allows you to lock your TransUnion credit report to avoid identity theft and fraud. The Debt Analysis tool lets you calculate your debt-to-income ratio, and it allows you to view public records associated with your name.

Availability: Apple and Android

Cost: Free, but requires a paid TransUnion Credit Monitoring account

7. ScoreSense Scores To Go

ScoreSense offers credit scores and reports from all three credit bureaus and daily credit monitoring and alerts to changes on your reports. This app also provides creditor contact information so you can address errors on your report quickly and efficiently. Score tracking features let you review how your score changes over time and how it compares to your peers.

Availability: Apple and Android

Cost: Free, but requires a paid ScoreSense account

8. Self

Self helps you build—and track—your credit, making it great for people just establishing their credit profile or trying to rebuild damaged credit. Self offers one- and two-year loan terms, but instead of getting the money up front, the amount is deposited into a CD. You make regular payments for the term of the loan (at least $25 per month), and then get access to the money. There is no hard inquiry to open the account, but your payments are reported to all three credit bureaus, helping build your credit. Plus, while you are repaying your loan, you will have access to free credit monitoring and you VantageScore so you can track your progress.

Availability: Apple and Android

Cost: Free, but requires a Self loan repayment of at least $25 per month

Credit Monitoring Apps to Fit Your Needs

With so many different options, you’re sure to find a credit monitoring app that meets your needs. And don’t forget: you can always check your score for free using Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card.

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Source: credit.com