Keeping the "Free" in Credit Freeze
June 21, 2023
On June 14th, the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles (OMV) announced a data breach exposing personal information of Louisiana residents with a driver’s license, ID, or car registration. To protect yourself from potential identity theft, you should consider freezing your credit.
Credit freezes are an important tool to prevent fraud and identity theft, but fewer than one third of Americans have ever frozen their credit. Federal law entitles someone to freeze and unfreeze their credit report for free with all three nationwide credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. While all three offer tools you can pay for to secure your credit, rest assured there is absolutely no need to spend money to achieve security and peace of mind.
What does freezing your credit do?
By freezing a credit report, someone can temporarily restrict access to their credit report until they are ready to use it. No one, including you, will be able to open new credit accounts in your name. Even if someone accesses your personal information, a credit freeze prevents anyone from opening an account in your name, damaging your credit.
Most businesses won’t be able to check your credit information once you freeze your credit. Companies you already have an existing account with will be able to review those accounts, but they won’t be able to open new ones. Government agencies and collection agencies also have access to certain parts of your credit information.
Credit freezes don’t affect your credit score, and you still will be able to apply for jobs, pass background checks, rent an apartment, or purchase insurance without ending the credit freeze. Also, you can choose to either end or temporarily lift the credit freeze at any time – just remember to do so prior to opening a loan or line of credit.
How do you freeze and unfreeze your credit for free?
You have the ability to freeze and unfreeze your credit for free with all three agencies online, by phone, or by mail. To do so, be prepared to provide your full name, date of birth, address history for the past two years, and social security number.
To freeze or unfreeze online, visit Equifax, Experian and TransUnion’s websites. You will need to make an account, so be sure to remember your username and password, which you will need to avoid delays when unfreezing your credit.
To freeze or unfreeze by phone – for free – call Equifax at (888) 298-0045, Experian at (888) 397-3742, -and TransUnion at (800) 916-8800. To freeze or unfreeze by mail, you can use this form for Equifax, the instructions on this page for Experian, and the instructions on this page for TransUnion.
Once you request online or by phone that a credit reporting agency freezes your credit report, they are required by federal law to do so within 24 hours, or three days after receiving your request by mail. They must also unfreeze your credit within an hour of a request placed online or by phone, or three days after a request placed by mail. If you believe that a credit reporting agency is not properly freezing or unfreezing your credit report, you can submit a complaint to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau online or by calling (855) 411-2372.
Why should you freeze your credit?
Credit freezes are the best tool available to prevent identity thieves from using your credit following data breaches, which are only becoming more common. 1,862 data breaches affecting 294 million consumers were reported in 2021, and 83% of those breaches included sensitive information such as social security numbers, according to the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.
Companies are required under federal law to report confirmed or suspected data breaches. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Apple, Reddit, AT&T, T-mobile, Verizon, Paypal, Cash App, Chick-fil-A, Slack, Dropbox, Shein, Doordash, Uber, Holiday Inn and Marriot are just some of the companies who have reported data breaches since the start of 2021.
When should you freeze your credit?
If you are notified of a data breach, you should consider freezing your credit immediately. The Federal Trade Commission offers a list of precautions after a data breach to mitigate the damage.
You can freeze your credit at any time without penalty. You will need to unfreeze your credit with all three agencies before applying for new lines of credit, such as purchasing a car or a home, or your application may be delayed.
Parents of children under the age of sixteen can freeze their credit for free, as can guardians, conservators, and people who hold a valid power of attorney. Over one million children have their identities stolen each year, and identity theft targeting children can often go undetected for years. To place a credit freeze for someone else, you will need to provide a birth certificate or other form of proof establishing your authority to act on their behalf.
When should you unfreeze your credit?
You should unfreeze your credit before you or a lender access your credit report. For example, if you are in the process of buying a car or house.
If you are unfreezing your credit online or by phone, credit reporting agencies are required by federal law to unfreeze your credit within one hour. However, if you forgot your PIN or account information, or if you are unfreezing your credit by mail, your request may be delayed by as long as one week.
Credit freezes are an effective tool to combat identity theft, and if you know what to look for and what to avoid, you can use them to protect yourself for free. As always, please know that Gulf Coast Bank & Trust Company is the bank that cares about you. If you have any topics that you would like us to discuss, we invite you to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Let’s Talk”.
Where do you go to freeze your credit again?