Identity theft is an increasingly common occurrence in Utah. If you are a victim one important tool you have to protect you from future theft of your accounts is the security or credit freeze. The freeze can be quite effective in preventing the thief from opening new accounts in your name if you act quickly.
What is a credit or security freeze?
In Utah, a security freeze is a way to freeze access to your credit so it cannot be easily stolen. You place the freeze with the three credit reporting agencies; Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Once placed, it prevents creditors from opening new accounts in your name. Although the freeze enables consumers to prevent access to their credit files, it also allows the consumer to enable access to selected companies.
Security Freeze Fees
Credit reporting agencies generally charge a fee for placing, lifting, or removing a security freeze on your reports but if you include a copy of the police report or provide the police docket number that documents the identity fraud the fee will be waived. If you are not a victim of identity theft, the fees for placing, lifting, or removing a credit freeze average between $3 and $10 per bureau though in some states the fees are even higher.
If you are worried about how a credit freeze affects your credit score, fear not. A credit freeze has no effect on your credit score because it is intended only to prevent identity thieves from establishing new credit in your name. For the same reason, a credit freeze will not prevent identity thieves from accessing your existing credit accounts either.
Prescreened Offers of Credit
A credit freeze also won’t stop prescreened offers for credit. If you wish to stop prescreened credit offers, you may do so online, by mail, or by telephone by calling 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688). Opting out of prescreened credit offers can be for either five years or can be done permanently at your discretion. Not all companies send offers based on prescreening so opting out will not stop all junk mail; though it will stop most.
Free Annual Credit Reports
A credit security freeze also doesn’t prevent you from ordering your free annual credit reports or keep you from opening a new account, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying an insurance policy. You might need to temporarily lift the freeze for these types of credit but doing so is easy and fast in most cases. It is best to plan ahead when applying for these kinds of credit however so there won’t be needless delays or unwarranted rejections.
How to place a security freeze
Requesting a security freeze must be done in writing either online or by certified mail and you must include proof of your identity with the request.
Once requested, the credit reporting agencies must place the security freeze within five business days. They must then send you written confirmation of the freeze within ten business days of placing the request. The confirmation must include a unique personal identification number or password you can use to release your credit information to selected companies. If you issue authorization to a company to access your reports, authorization is limited to a specific party for a specific amount of time.
The security freeze contact information for the three major credit bureaus is as follows:
Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788 Atlanta, GA 30348 Telephone: 888-298-0045 https://www.freeze.equifax.com/ [/callout] [callout]
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554 Allen, TX 75013 Telephone: 888-397-3742 https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html [/callout] [callout]
Trans Union Security Freeze
P.O. Box 6790 Fullerton, CA 92834-6790 Telephone: 888-909-8872 http://www.transunion.com/securityfreeze [/callout]
How to temporarily unlock a security freeze
If you need to temporary unlock the freeze, no problem. Just call or write to the credit bureaus. The freeze must be temporarily removed within three business days if requested by mail or within 15 minutes during regular business hours if requested by telephone or electronically. You may request a temporary lift for a specific credit grantor or for a specific period of time ranging anywhere from one day to one full year.
Differences between a security freeze and fraud alerts
A security freeze completely locks down or “freezes” your credit. Once in place, creditors may not access your credit to extend new credit. Credit freezes are also specific to individual credit bureaus so you can freeze one and leave another totally open.
Fraud alerts, on the other hand, are merely a cautionary flag to alert lenders they should take special precautions before extending credit in your name. Typically, that involves calling you to verify that you are the actual person requesting the credit. When you set the fraud alert, you give the credit bureaus your telephone number so they know they are calling you rather than an imposter. Finally, when you set a fraud alert with one credit agency it is required by law to contact the other two so a fraud alert spans all three agencies rather than staying with one specific bureau.
The time frames are also different in some circumstances. For example, an initial fraud alert lasts for only 90 days while a security freeze stays in place for seven years. You can place an extended fraud alert however, which will also last for seven years so the time differences are not significant.
Another difference is that anyone can request a freeze of their credit while fraud alerts are only available to consumers who are, or reasonably believe they may become, victims of identity theft.
Security freeze considerations
A security freeze is an excellent tool in the fight against identity theft but in some cases you may want to remain cautious before placing a security freeze. For some consumers, the burdens of locking and unlocking the freeze can grow tiresome over time. For example, you may want to open a store credit card at the point of purchase and with a credit freeze in place might be stopped from doing so. The same is true for other types of credit such as requesting cell phone service or even applying for a job.
Another consideration is the burden of figuring out which credit bureau to unlock for any given situation. In some cases, the credit grantor can tell you in advance which credit bureau to unfreeze but there could be a situation where you would have to unfreeze all three agencies to be sure you the credit grantor gets the access they need to assess your creditworthiness.
Ultimately, the decision will be yours to make but if you want to prevent identity thieves from opening new lines of credit in your name, a credit or security freeze is one of many tool at your disposal.