Credit freezes offer the best protection against fraudsters taking out loans or credit cards in your name. A credit freeze can save you the headache, cost, time and hassle of resolving these fraudulent accounts down the road.  If you are a victim of identity theft, it is a good idea to immediately freeze your credit, while you get everything sorted out and resolved. In cases of identity theft, there is normally no cost to freeze your credit, assuming you have the proper documentation. If you are not a victim of identity theft and wish to freeze your credit, you may have to pay a small fee, depending on the State in which you reside and the individual credit bureau’s current fee structure. If you suspect someone has stolen or obtained your social security number, due to a data breach or other event, a credit freeze may be a good preventative measure.

To freeze your credit, you will need to reach out to each of the three major credit bureaus. These include Experian, Equifax and Transunion. Credit freezes can be easily undertaken by calling the toll free numbers for each of these reporting bureaus, or by going to the credit freeze section directly on each of the respective websites. When you sign up to freeze your credit, you will be issued a pin number. It is very important to save this in a safe place, because you will need this if you need to temporarily or permanently remove the credit freeze in the future. I recommend storing these with other important papers such as birth certificates, passports and social security cards, preferably in a fireproof safe.

If a time comes when you need to apply for new credit, you will need to at least temporarily lift the credit freeze(s) with the credit bureau used by the lender, and potentially with all three credit bureaus, depending on the lenders requirements. Sometimes new employers, landlords, or insurance agencies will also want to check your credit, requiring you to have to lift the freeze that has been put in place. Temporarily removing a credit freeze is quite easy, but depending on where you live and which credit bureaus are involved, you may have to pay a small fee to do so. To You can do so by calling each credit bureau or by logging into the websites and initiating a temporary credit freeze lift. You will need the pin code that was issued to you when you first initiated your credit freeze. Normally you will be allowed to remove a credit freeze for a particular lender, or for a specific period of time. The whole process typically only takes a few minutes and your credit freeze can automatically be reactivated on the date that you choose. Once you have requested a lift, it will take place immediately, assuming that is your chosen start date. Otherwise, you may select a future start date to begin the credit freeze lift. Each bureau also offers options to permanently remove a credit freeze, so if you decide it is not right for you in the future, you can simply put in a request to permanently remove these freezes from your accounts.

Keep in mind that a credit freeze will not prevent fraudulent charges to your existing credit and/or debit cards, since these actions only require gaining access to your credit card information, and not accessing your consumer credit file. It is prudent to keep your cards physically secure and to use strong passwords when shopping online. Staying on secure wi-fi networks when entering your credit card information online and being alert to phishing emails trying to get you to enter your credit card information and passwords are all measures you can take to help protect yourself from credit card fraud. When in doubt about an email, phone call or text message about one of your credit, debit cards or bank accounts, always call your lender or credit card provider directly. There are a number of credit monitoring services available on the market that can alert you to changes in your credit file, usually for a fee. Most banks and credit card companies also allow you to set up free alerts, so you are notified instantly via text message or email if your card has been charged over a certain dollar amount, or when not physically present.

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