It is now free to freeze and unfreeze your credit file in the United States. This is a great way to prevent identity thieves from opening fraudulent accounts and taking out loans in your name, and with so many major data breaches in the past few years it is very likely that a criminal will have access to enough information about you to do that. The credit agencies used to charge a fee for this service, but it is now free. You can even freeze the credit of your minor children, which will prevent them from having the unpleasant surprise of a poor credit score caused by identity theft when they get their first loan or credit card.
A credit freeze prevents new lines of credit from being created in your name. Had my credit been froze, identity thieves couldn't have gone on a $6,000 shopping spree in my name a few years ago. If your credit is frozen and you want to open a legitimate line of credit you do need to take some additional steps to unfreeze it, but how often do you do that really?
Freezing your credit can usually be done in a few minutes online or over the phone. In some cases (such as if there are inaccuracies on your credit report), you may need to mail in some documentation. You should freeze with all the credit agencies because people who grant credit usually only check one. This is, if you froze your credit on one service and an identity thief opens a credit card with a store that uses a different service your freeze won't prevent the new card.
Here is the information for the credit bureaus:
When you freeze your credit you will receive or create a personal identification number (PIN) that you can use to unfreeze your credit when you need to. (Just ask whoever you want to open the credit line with which agency they will be using.)
In addition to freezing your credit it is also a good idea to check your credit report annually. You have a legal right to a free copy of your credit reports from the major credit bureaus each year, but be sure to use the official Federal website: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/. Other websites that claim to offer free credit reports are doing so in exchange for selling you something else.
It sucks that we all have to do this, but I'm grateful that it's become easier to do. If you haven't frozen your credit, do it now.
For more information about credit freezes and other steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft read this article by Brian Krebs.
RELATED POST: What I learned about being a victim of identity theft
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