Freezing Your Credit: What You Need to Know

With the recent security breaches and increasingly evolving methods of fraud, it’s more important than ever to be vigilant about your personal credit and identity theft. You may remember that recently, after some larger security breaches, the three main credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, all were offer credit freezes for a fee. Well, soon, consumers will be able to freeze their accounts without a charge.

“Security freezes, often called credit freezes, are “absolutely” the best way to prevent criminals from using your personal information to open new accounts in your name,” said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. These new free freezes will start being available today, Friday, September 21, as a part of a broader financial legislation. The new federal law requires they be made available nationally.

TransUnion and Equifax already began offering free freezes but to be the most effective, freezes must be placed at all three bureaus. Experian is expected to start offering the freezes for free today. More details on how to start a freeze on your accounts can be found on the Federal Trade Commission website. After nearly half the population of the United States were compromised in last September’s cyber-attack where sensitive information such as social security numbers, birth dates, and other information the three credit bureaus began advertising the credit freezes as the best security measure to protect against criminals attempting to use stolen information to open fraudulent new accounts or borrow money in someone else’s name.

“Despite the scale of last year’s breach, and a steady stream of other incidents, security freezes have not really caught on. An AARP survey of about 2,000 adults found that only 14 percent had frozen their credit files,” states The New York Times. One of the barriers sited in the same survey stated the cost as a reason they didn’t freeze their lines. At just $10, the cost doesn’t seem like much of a burden – but multiply that by three for each bureau, and then again when you want to thaw the freeze to apply for a new credit line. For a young-adult that extra cost can add up.

The new law requiring the bureaus to offer free freezes, also allows parents to create and freeze credit files for their children under 16, to prevent their identities from being misused. To learn more about how to protect you and your family from identity theft visit the Federal Trade Commission website.