Freezing your credit is a great preventative measure, but how does it work?
In the digital age, data breaches are unfortunately becoming a frequent occurrence; fraudsters are finding ways to hack into the databases of some of the biggest banks and credit issuers in order to steal personal information, and consumers are wondering how they can protect themselves from identity theft and credit fraud. Perhaps the best way to safeguard against fraud is by freezing your credit. Also known as a security freeze, this essentially hides your credit history from credit issuers; if a creditor is unable to see your credit file, they will not approve an application because they deem files with no information to be a risk. This means that if your information has been exposed, thieves and scoundrels will not be able to use your information to commit fraud in your name or rack up charges that you will be liable for later. A credit freeze must be requested from each of the three major credit reporting agencies – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian – in order to be effective, and can be requested in three different ways: online, in writing, and over the phone. We’ll discuss each method for requesting a credit freeze below, with a focus on freezing your credit with TransUnion. Read on for a step-by-step breakdown:
Freeze Your Credit with TransUnion Online:
When you visit the TransUnion website, you’ll see several options in the menu along the top. By clicking “Credit Help” and then subsequently clicking “Credit Freeze,” you will be taken to a page where you can begin the credit freeze process with TransUnion. You’ll see three options for freezing credit – Add a Freeze, Unfreeze, and “Freeze a Loved One’s Credit.” We’ll deal with the first as we break down the steps to freeze your credit online with TransUnion. Once you’ve clicked “Add Freeze,” you’ll land on a page that prompts you for your personal information. You will need to create an account, which you can later use to manage your FCRA Free Freeze, and you’ll have the option to sign up for a newsletter from TransUnion with helpful tips and news about the services you’ve requested, as well as special offers. To complete the three-step signup process, you’ll be required to submit your full legal name, your full address (you’ll be asked if you have lived there for more than six months, or not), your date of birth, your Social Security number, and other pertinent personal information. You will also be asked specific identification questions in order to verify that you are indeed who you say you are; these prompts may include questions regarding your past addresses, time-frames during which your existing credit accounts were established, or approximate payment amounts for your current loans. Once you verify your identity, you will be able to place your credit freeze, at which point you can choose a PIN; if you do not choose your own PIN, you will be assigned one randomly. It is extremely important that you record your PIN, because without it, you will not be able to freeze or unfreeze your credit by phone. The PIN is not needed to freeze or unfreeze using your online account with TransUnion, since you’ll have a password to use to log in, but you will need it otherwise.
Note: When signing up for your TransUnion account, you will see that there are many products offered for credit monitoring. While signing up for a free credit freeze will not cost anything, many of these other products require payment. Be careful to only sign up for the free credit freeze, unless you’d like additional credit monitoring.
Here is a brief breakdown, from TransUnion’s site, that illustrates some of the free and paid services they offer: One of the benefits of using TransUnion’s online services is their mobile app, which allows you to freeze and unfreeze your credit, among other things, on the go. Get the app for Android or Apple: Google Play Apple Store
Freeze Your Credit with TransUnion by Postal Service:
For those who are wary of providing personal information like a Social Security number to an online service due to hacking concerns, there are several other options that will allow you to place a security freeze with TransUnion. While TransUnion acknowledges that freezing your credit by mail is the slowest way to freeze credit, it is also an effective method for placing a security freeze. You’ll need to send a written request with the following information: full legal name (including suffixes – whatever appears on your credit report), full address, date of birth, and Social Security number. You will also need to provide copies of documents that verify your identity; it’s best to include a copy of all of them, so that you don’t need to send additional information later on. You’ll want to include a copy of an identifying document like a driver’s license or passport, and something that is proof of address, like a copy of a utility bill. Send these documents along with your written request to: TransUnion P.O. Box 160 Woodlyn, PA 19094 Once your information has been received and processed, you will be issued a PIN; this PIN will be sent to you by U.S. Postal Service as well. Make sure that you keep your PIN in a safe place, as you’ll need it to unfreeze your credit with TransUnion!
Freeze Your Credit with TransUnion by Phone:
If you’d rather not apply online, but would prefer to not be at the mercy of the U.S. Postal Service, you can also request a credit freeze by calling TransUnion directly. The number to call is: 1-888-909-8872; simply dial the number, and follow the prompts. You will be asked to provide the same personal information that you need in order to request a freeze online or by mail – full legal name, birth date, recent addresses, and your Social Security number as well as other identifying questions. Once you’ve successfully confirmed your identity, you will receive a confirmation that a security freeze with TransUnion has been placed on your account, and you will be mailed a copy of your PIN. While this method is faster than sending your request by snail mail, you are still at the mercy of the postal service, and until you receive your PIN it will be difficult to remove the credit freeze you’ve placed on your file. Because of this, we recommend either freezing your credit online via the TransUnion website, or using their app for speedier service.
Important Things to Remember About Credit Freezes:
- Freezing your credit with TransUnion 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 – Equifax and Experian – before your information will be “offline” and unaccessible.
- 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.