Freezing your credit is a great preventative measure, but how does it work?
Whether you’ve been the victim of credit card fraud, or are proactively looking for ways to prevent your personal data from being compromised, freezing your credit is widely considered the best way to prevent your credit report from being accessed by fraudsters. Existing credit cards and loans are unaffected by a credit card freeze, which means it’s business as usual for you when you’ve elected to freeze your credit – unless you want to apply for new credit, in which case you’ll need to lift the credit freeze. For a credit freeze to be most effective, it must be done with each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Also known as a security freeze, this option can be performed three different ways: online, in writing, and over the phone. We’ll discuss each method for freezing your credit below, with a focus on freezing your credit with Experian. Read on for a step-by-step breakdown:
Freeze Your Credit with Experian Online:
When you visit the Experian website, you’ll need to locate a short form to complete online. As you can see from the screenshot below, you’ll be prompted to enter personal information, including your full first and last name, your full address, your date of birth, and your social security number. By entering your email address, you’re giving them permission to send you a confirmation that the process has been completed once you’ve filled out and submitted the form via email. You’ll also be asked if you’d like to select your own PIN, or alternatively, be assigned a PIN. Remember, this PIN will be important to write down and keep in a safe place – you’ll need to provide it to Experian in order to “thaw,” or lift, your credit freeze. Per Experian’s site:
“Providing a personal identification number is optional: After you place a security freeze on your report, a PIN is needed to remove the freeze from your credit file. You may choose a numeric value from 5 to 10 digits in length.”
Depending on your personal preference, you may wish to create your own – something that will be easier for you to remember than a randomly generated 10-digit number. On the other hand, a randomly generated number will also be more difficult for a fraudster to guess – so it will be paramount to write down your PIN once it’s been issued to you. This way, when you thaw your credit, you’ll be able to do so quickly without a need to provide additional information in order to prove that you are who you say you are. Once you’ve submitted the above information, you’ll be prompted to answer several additional questions that will help to verify your identity. These questions typically ask about past addresses, previous credit accounts, and other financial questions that only you should know the answer to. Once these questions have been answered correctly, a screen will load with a confirmation that your security freeze has been added; your PIN will also be displayed in the body of this message, and you’ll be prompted to either print, or email, your PIN. I usually opt to print, because email can also be hacked – but email is a great way to store this PIN digitally, so if you lose the physical paper you’ve written your PIN on you’ll still be able to access it digitally. Since this process takes place online, freezing your credit via Experian’s website is generally much faster than any other method. The next option to freeze your credit is by snail mail.
Freeze Your Credit with Experian by Postal Service:
Given that fraudsters often access our personal information thanks to data breaches due to poor cybersecurity, it’s understandable that some folks may prefer to freeze their credit without using a website. In fact, Experian is the perfect example for this – in 2017, hackers exploited a website application vulnerability to gain access to the personal information of millions of Americans. For those who would rather not risk using a website to freeze their credit, there are two remaining options for freezing credit. The first is by U.S. postal mail. If you prefer to use mail, and don’t mind waiting for your PIN to arrive by postal carrier, you can send your request directly to: Experian Security Freeze P.O. Box 9554 Allen, TX 75013 When mailing your request, Experian requires the following information, which you’ll need to include in your correspondence in order to freeze your credit by mail: your full legal name (including generational suffixes like Jr or Sr, if applicable), along with your Social Security number, your birthdate, two years’ worth of addresses, a copy of a government-issued ID card like a driver’s license or passport, and some sort of proof of address like a utility bill. While applying for a credit freeze by mail is potentially safer than doing so online, it does pose risks, as you’ll be mailing information like your Social Security number. If someone were to open your mail before it reaches its destination, they’d have all of the necessary information to steal your identity. The chances of this happening, however, are pretty slim – much like the chances of having your information compromised online. Freezing your credit by mail is not as fast as freezing your credit online or by phone; you will need to wait for your correspondence to arrive and be processed, which can take up to three weeks (you’ll be at the mercy of the United States Postal Service, as well processing times at Experian). You also will need to wait for Experian to send you a letter with confirmation that your credit has been frozen, along with your PIN to lift the freeze later on. This could cause issues if you freeze your credit by mail and then realize that you need it “thawed” before you’ve received the necessary information.
Freeze Your Credit with Experian by Phone:
If you prefer, you can also begin the process to freeze your credit by phone. Simply dial 888-397-3742 (888-EXPERIAN) and follow the prompts. You’ll be asked to provide the same personal data you need for the other methods – full legal name, birthdate, recent addresses, and your Social Security number. Once you have successfully confirmed your identity, your credit will be frozen; you’ll receive a PIN by postal mail. You may also unfreeze your credit by phone by following the same steps and providing the PIN you received.
Important Things to Remember About Credit Freezes:
- Freezing your credit with Experian is a good first step, but it doesn’t protect you completely. You will need to complete this process with the other major credit bureaus – TransUnion and Equifax – before your information will be “offline” and unaccessible.
- A credit freeze will not affect your credit score.
- The quickest way to freeze your credit is online, since you receive your PIN immediately (and can choose your own), 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.
Here at BestCards.com, we strive to bring you the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding credit, credit cards, and how to best use them. For more information on credit freezes, please check out Freezing Your Credit: What You Should Know for a comprehensive breakdown of what a credit freeze is, how it differs from a credit lock and a fraud alert, and when it is best to lift a credit freeze from your account.