Worried about identity theft? If you’re concerned about someone opening lines of credit in your name without your authorization, a credit freeze might be the right solution for you.

A credit freeze (also known as a security freeze) allows users to restrict access to their credit reports. Credit freezes are valid until the person involved requests the credit bureau to lift it, offering protection from identity thieves for as long as needed.

Requesting a credit or security freeze is free. It will not affect the requesting person’s credit report nor will it prevent them from opening a new line of credit, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying a new insurance policy. However, a person should lift their active credit freeze temporarily if a potential employer or landlord needs to access their credit report.

A person may request to freeze all credit accounts for themselves or for a dependent child who is under the age of 16. Additionally, a person’s guardian or power of attorney may freeze their credit file on their behalf.

How to Request a Credit Freeze

Typically, a person can request a credit freeze online or over the phone. This guide will discuss the three easy steps it takes to freeze a person’s credit file, securing their identity and making it harder for thieves to open accounts in their name.

Step 1: Identify Potential Fraud Risks

When a person freezes their credit file, they may believe they are at risk of identity theft. Typically, a person freezes their credit reports because they want to prevent thieves from opening lines of credit in their name. By freezing their credit file, a person disallows companies and banks to pull their credit score, making it impossible for identity thieves to start new accounts.

The first step to freezing a credit file is to identify potential fraud risks. Are you concerned that someone is using your identity to open lines of credit in your name? If so, it may be time for a security freeze.

Check your credit reports to find out if someone is using your identity to open unauthorized accounts. Review all of the accounts shown on your credit report and make sure they are legitimate.

Double-check the balances and make sure they are accurate. If you see any accounts that seem fraudulent, move on to step two to freeze your credit report.

Step 2: Contact All Three Credit Bureaus

When you freeze all credit accounts, you’ll need to contact the three main credit bureaus to make your request. Here’s how to reach the credit bureaus to freeze your credit either online or by phone…

Freeze your credit with Equifax by calling 1-800-685-1111 or visiting equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services.

Freeze your credit with Experian by calling 1-888-397-3742 or visiting experian.com/freeze/center.html.

Freeze your credit with TransUnion by calling 1-888-909-8872 or visiting transunion.com/credit-freeze.

Call the numbers listed above for each bureau and have your full name, address, date of birth, social security number, and other identifying personal information ready. You’ll need to contact each bureau individually and place security freezes with each.

After requesting a credit freeze, each bureau will give you a unique personal identification number or passcode. Keep the identification number or passcode in a place where you can find it, as you will need it when you lift your credit freeze.

If you want to lift your credit freeze, also known as “thawing” your credit report, you can do so online or over the phone. You are welcome to temporarily lift your credit freeze if you need to run a credit check before you’re ready to thaw your report permanently.

Step 3: Request a Fraud Alert for Your Credit

Fraud alerts and credit freezes are two different security measures, but they go hand-in-hand protecting consumers from identity theft. If you place a fraud alert with one credit bureau, it will automatically apply to the other two credit bureaus.

Typically, consumers place fraud alerts if they’ve lost their wallet, social security card, or other sensitive financial or personal information. If you’ve frozen your credit file, you may consider placing a fraud report as an additional means of securing your identity.

When you place a fraud alert on your credit report, businesses must verify your identity before they issue credit. In short, they must contact you directly whenever credit is requested in your name.

Fraud alerts are valid for one year and may be renewed as needed. Consumers can place fraud alerts on their credit files by using the same contact information above for each credit bureau.

What Happens After a Credit Freeze?

Security freezes prevent access to the majority of credit inquiries, but reports may be pulled for certain reasons. Here’s a list of some of the most common reasons for credit report inquiries that can be done even with a credit freeze in place…

  • When a person wants to view their own credit report.
  • When pre-existing creditors want to conduct account reviews.
  • When a landlord or rental agencies run background screenings.
  • When phone and utility companies make inquiries.
  • When debt collection agencies try to collect payment.
  • When a company is pre-screening an offer of credit.
  • When a person is underwriting insurance for him or herself.
  • When an employer makes a credit inquiry to screen new hires.
  • When a government agency requests a person’s credit file.

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, each of the national credit bureaus must keep a record of anyone who’s accessed a person’s credit file. If you have frozen your credit file and a landlord, creditor, or other entity looks at your credit report, you can request that record from the credit bureau.

Alternatives to Freezing Your Credit

There’s no denying that placing a freeze on your credit can play a helpful role in keeping your identity safe from thieves and hackers. But what if you want some added security on top of placing a security freeze on your credit file?

That’s where signing up for one of the top-rated identity protection services can come in to lend a helping hand. Not only will you get access to 24/7 automatic credit monitoring, but you’ll also be able to rest easy knowing that your identity is being watched for suspicious activity by experts.