COVID-19 has led to a marked increase in online transactions, triggering a huge spike in cases of identity theft. There are many steps you can take to reduce the odds of becoming a victim, such as recognizing the telltale signs of identity theft. Another way you can protect yourself is by implementing a credit freeze, which can help curb the flow of personal data.
Understanding what a credit freeze does and how to use it effectively will help you add an additional layer of protection to stop identity theft before it happens.
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Is freezing my credit a good idea?
Credit card fraud can create years of problems for victims. Though nothing provides fool-proof protection against fraud, a credit freeze is a simple tool (with legally mandated compliance) that stops the credit bureaus from selling your data. When you do want a creditor to access your credit report, you enter a PIN to temporarily unfreeze it.
The added layer of protection makes it much more difficult for scammers to open accounts in your name because they can’t access your credit report. A credit freeze protects against fraud as long as you keep that PIN secure. It’s also free and has no impact on your credit score. Since COVID-19 identity theft schemes are on the rise, now could be a good time to consider using this tool.
How do I put a freeze on my credit?
You can request to have your credit frozen through the three main credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax—online. You can also print a Credit Freeze Request and mail it to each credit bureau individually. Along with the letter, you will need:
- Personal identification numbers, including your Social Security number
- Proof of identity, such as a government-issued ID
- Proof of address, such as a utility bill
- Copy of a police report (if you are an identity theft victim)
You will want to mail these to each credit bureau using a secured mailing method if you don’t wish to pursue the online process.
How long is the credit freeze good for?
A credit freeze stays in effect until you choose to lift it. If you know you will be applying for new credit, you may wish to lift the freeze temporarily to make the process easier for you and your potential lender.
How do I unfreeze my credit?
Removing the freeze is just as simple as requesting it. You can use the Request to Remove Credit Freeze form, which will require your PIN and conform to regulations specific to the particular credit bureau, but it will not usually require all of the documentation required to set it up.
You may temporarily unfreeze your credit score while you apply for a loan. This is called a credit thaw, and you can set it up for a time period of your choosing, including having the freeze put back in place automatically at a set time. This means you can apply for your new loan or line of credit, knowing that you have the protections in place without the need to re-freeze your credit.
Use the tools that are available to prevent identity theft
A credit freeze can help put a stop to identity theft, but can’t help your situation if you’re already a victim of identity theft. If your identity has been stolen, you may need to use an ID Theft Affidavit to establish proof and receive the services of local law enforcement. Prevention is always the best policy, though. If you have additional questions about identity theft or other types of financial fraud, ask a lawyer.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.