Many states have laws that let consumers “freeze” their credit – that is, restrict access to their credit report. If you place a freeze on your credit, potential creditors and others will not be able to access your credit report unless you temporarily lift the freeze. This means that it’s unlikely that an identity thief would be able to open a new account in your name. Placing a credit freeze does not affect your credit score – nor does it alter your ability to access your credit information.
Credit freeze laws vary from state to state. In some states, anyone can freeze their credit file, while in other states, only identity theft victims can. The cost of placing, temporarily lifting and removing a credit freeze also varies. Many states make credit freezes free to identity theft victims, while in other states, consumers must pay a fee to each of the three major credit reporting agencies.
Who Can Access Your Credit Report Once a Freeze Has Been Imposed?
Once a credit freeze takes effect, you will continue to have access to your free report. You’ll also be able to purchase a copy of your credit report and credit score. Companies that you do business with will still have access to your credit report – for example, your mortgage, credit card or cell phone company – as will collection agencies that are working for one of those companies. Companies will also still be able to offer you prescreened credit. Additionally, in some states, potential employers, insurance companies, landlords and other non-creditors can still get access to your credit report with a credit freeze in place.
If you want to apply for a loan or credit card, or otherwise need to give someone access to your credit report and that person is not covered by an exception to the credit freeze law, you must lift the credit freeze temporarily. You can do that by using a PIN that each credit reporting agency sends after you place the credit freeze. In most states, you will need to pay a fee to lift the credit freeze. Most states currently give the credit reporting agencies three days to lift the credit freeze.
What Doesn’t a Credit Freeze Do?
It will not protect you, for example, from an identity thief who uses your existing credit cards or other accounts. Nor can it prevent an identity thief from opening accounts that don’t require a credit checks, such as telephone and bank accounts. In addition, some creditors might open an account without first getting your credit report.