Freezing your credit is a great preventative measure, but how does it work?
Experts agree that perhaps the best way for consumers to protect themselves against credit card fraud is by requesting a credit freeze. A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, makes it difficult for a fraudster to open new lines of credit in your name by effectively hiding your credit file from credit issuers; when your credit is frozen, card issuers will be unable to see your credit history, which leads to the rejection of any application until that information becomes available. Because of this, if you wish to apply for a new credit card or a mortgage while your credit is frozen, you’ll need to lift the security freeze before you can proceed. For a credit freeze to be most effective, it must be requested from each of the three major credit bureaus. A credit freeze can be performed in three ways: online, in writing, and over the phone. We’ll break down each method for requesting a credit freeze below, with a focus on freezing your credit with Equifax. Read on for a step-by-step breakdown:
Freeze Your Credit with Equifax Online:
Typically, freezing your credit with each credit bureau is easiest online. Visit the Equifax website and locate the personal consumer services center here. The following steps serve not only to allow you to request a credit freeze, but also creates a myEquifax™ account, which you can use to manage your credit freeze later. Click on the highlighted section below: This link will take you to the first step of the process, at which time you’ll be prompted to provide the following personal information: First and last name, date of birth, Social Security number, mobile number (Equifax uses this to verify your identity, and to provide service-related alerts. If you do not have a mobile phone, use your home phone number), and finally your current address. Once you’ve filled out the necessary information and verified your identity, you’ll be able to request your credit freeze, at which point you’ll be given a PIN to use when you’d like to lift the freeze. Make sure you record this PIN and keep it in a safe place; if you lose it, “thawing” your credit won’t be impossible, but you will certainly need to jump through more hoops to verify that you are who you say you are and prove that you’re not a fraudster. Equifax says that, if you don’t have your 10-digit PIN that you are issued when you place a security freeze, you will essentially need to create a new account online, or submit a request for a new PIN in writing; detailed instructions, along with a list of documents, is located here.
Freeze Your Credit with Equifax by Postal Service:
If you’d prefer to put your request in writing, you can also set up a security freeze via postal mail. You’ll be required to provide many of the same personal details that you are prompted for when freezing your credit online – full name (including any suffixes), your full address, date of birth, and Social Security or ITIN number – as well as copies of documents that verify your name and address. Equifax asks that you send a copy of documents from two different categories in order to verify your identity: one item to validate ID, and one to validate address. You can decide which item you’d like to send from this list, make a copy, and include it when you mail your documents.
Equifax states on their website that, “when you provide documents, including a letter, to Equifax as part of your dispute, the documents may be submitted to one or more companies whose information are the subject of your dispute.”
Your documents and written credit freeze request should be sent to: Equifax Security Freeze P.O. Box 105788 Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5788 Remember, sending sensitive information by snail mail can still be risky; you will also have to wait to receive your PIN until it has been mailed to you, which can be frustrating for some, which is why we recommend freezing your credit online when possible.
Freeze Your Credit with Equifax by Phone:
If you’re not able to get to a computer and need to freeze your credit in a hurry, your next best bet will be to call Equifax directly. Call 1-800-685-1111 – unless you live in New York, in which case you’ll need to call 1-800-349-9960 – and follow the prompts. You’ll be asked to provide the same information you are asked for with the other methods of freezing your credit, so be prepared to supply your full legal name, street address, state of residence, and Social Security number along with any other personal information that is requested. When you freeze your credit by phone with Equifax, you’ll receive your PIN in the mail.
Important Things to Remember About Credit Freezes:
- Freezing your credit with Equifax is great as a first step, but you won’t be protected completely just yet. To cover all your bases, you will need to complete this process with the other major credit bureaus – TransUnion and Experian – before your information will be “offline” and inaccessible.
- A credit freeze does not affect your credit score.
- The fastest way to freeze your credit is online, since you receive your PIN immediately rather than wait to receive it in the mail. This is particularly important, since if you freeze your credit you will not be able to unfreeze it again until you receive this PIN. Keep this in mind if you have plans to open another line of credit or get a mortgage, for example, soon.
- Make sure to keep your PIN in a safe place, where it will not be lost. It’s certainly possible to retrieve a lost PIN, but jumping through more hoops to unfreeze your credit is a hassle that most people want to avoid.
- Freezing and “thawing” your credit report is free.
BestCards.com recommends a credit freeze for most people who are not actively applying for a new line of credit. If you don’t want to freeze your credit, you can also opt for a credit lock, or a fraud alert. Read our Credit Basics article to learn more about what a credit freeze is and how it differs from credit locks and fraud alerts.