How to Freeze Your Credit After the Equifax Breach
About half of all Americans are at risk for long-term identity theft in the aftermath of the recent Equifax data breach. In fact, the company has said that 143 million consumers are potentially at risk, as hackers swiped the likes of social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and more.
So what can you do? If you’re really worried about someone trying to steal your identity or open up a line of credit under your name, the best thing you can do right now is take the steps to freeze your credit. A credit freeze essentially acts to prevent any creditor from accessing your credit report. In fact, per the FTC, nobody can open a line of credit or apply for a loan without your approval first. The nice thing about conducting a credit freeze is that you’ll still be able to see your credit score, as will any of your current creditors. Additionally, a freeze won’t impact your credit score in any way.
How to Freeze Your Credit
1. Contact the credit reporting firms: A freeze is fairly easy to do. Just call the credit reporting firms — namely the “big three” of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and tell them you want to freeze your credit. You should also call a smaller, yet increasingly important credit reporting bureau, Innovis. Note: While you can freeze your credit online, it’s always better to conduct this task over the phone.
2. Give them your information: In order to proceed with a credit freeze, you’ll be asked for your name, address, birth date and social security number.
3. Freeze it, don’t lock it: You may be asked if you’d rather lock your credit rather than freeze it. Stick to freezing it.
4. Lift it: Say you want to apply for a mortgage loan, open a new credit card or you’re looking to lease a new apartment where a creditor will need to see your credit report. When your credit is frozen, no potential new creditor will be able to access this information unless you lift the freeze. To lift the freeze, you’ll need to once again contact the credit bureaus and inform them of your decision. Lifts may take anywhere from 15 minutes to three days to activate. After you’ve taken care of any business, you can then choose to freeze your credit again by following the steps detailed here.
Is a Credit Freeze for You?
Though freezing — and lifting your credit freeze when need be — can be a bit of a hassle, it’s a good way to preventatively guard against identity theft. Note that it does cost money, with fees ranging from $5 to $10 depending on the state you reside in, but credit freezing can give consumers peace of mind, especially in times of uncertainty in the wake of the recent Equifax hack.