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Credit Freeze

(Image is in the Public Domain)

Scenario: A drug dealer gets a cellphone to make drug deals. They sign a lease in your name, hook up electricity, and then go shopping for supplies all in your name. What do all of these have in common? Each of these requires a credit check.

A credit check for the phone, a credit check for the lease, another for the utilities, and the last for the store's credit account. The real problem with identity theft isn't the thieves (who have always been there), it's the system that makes it so easy for them to get goods and services while leaving you with the bill.

It's not thieves or breaches or some mysterious unsolvable problem; CRCs directly caused the ID Theft epidemic by positioning themselves as the gateway to all credit decisions and then freely handing out your information with insufficient controls.

The Solution

I already explained the various types of non-credit ID Theft, but the vast majority of instances do involve a credit check which simplifies the problem: block the check, block the theft. I won't bore you with the long and bitter war with the CRCs with us trying to get freezes available and them trying to block laws and discourage people from using them. Bottom line, since 2018, freezes are free in all US states.

Here's why you should care:

What if someone was actually protecting your credit report from unauthorized access? Better yet, what if that person could be YOU? Freezes make it happen
(Image is in the Public Domain)

Freezing Your Credit Reports

  1. Go to the three CRC's freeze pages online (they keep changing the URLs so check the FTC's page for an up-to-date list or register a complaint while you're there if they changed them again).
  2. Enter your data, but NOT your credit card or other payment information.
  3. Watch out for upsells and addons as they trying to use the freeze system to milk you for monitoring or other "services".
  4. Make sure you have a freeze PIN or they notify you it's coming in the mail (but make sure you actually GET it).

Boom, you win.

What's the big deal? It used to be I only needed a little bit of your information to pretend to be you and get credit, but with a Freeze PIN in place, now there's an extra piece of required data... something only YOU and the CRC have. If you're doing it right, you'll store the PIN securely and NEVER allow any store or creditor to "thaw your credit for you if you just give them the PIN". Instead, do the following:

Thawing Your Report

Time Based

  1. Contact the CRC by phone or through their website.
  2. Provide the freeze PIN along with a date range

Once complete, access to your credit report is open for the time period you specified. Granted, this means you're totally exposed during that time, but it's still a small window of time for thieves and is the most effective way to handle several different companies need access to your credit report at once (like if you're going loan shopping or moving into a new place and need to let several people check your credit in sequence).

Company Based

  1. Contact the CRC by phone or through their website.
  2. Provide the freeze PIN along with the name of a company.
  3. Note the temporary PIN they provide you.
  4. Give the temporary PIN to the company that you're applying for credit with.
When you apply for something that requires a credit check, ask them which CRC they use so you can thaw the right one. There's no sense taking the time and trouble to thaw more than you need to.

Drawbacks

Freezes DO NOT affect existing credit accounts or credit cards. Only new applications for credit that require a CRC check.

There is only one drawback that I know of: having a credit freeze will naturally introduce a delay when getting credit. If you are the type to apply for instant-credit deals, you might find this to be cumbersome. Similarly, if you have a pressing need to get credit (car broke down or something) delays can be a problem. The CRCs are supposed to unfreeze your credit within an hour of making the request online, but I've had some trouble getting them to approve the thaw this way due to (in my opinion) shenanigans (thanks Equifax... you scumbags).

The CRCs are supposed to make thaws easy. If you think they're making it harder than it should be (purposefully or incompetently), file a complaint at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Pros

Still, this is balanced by the incredible protection of actually having control over who sees your credit.having a little time to actually think before adding to your debt really can't be such a bad thing.

Exercise

Exercise by Nick Youngson - Alpha Stock Images
(Image used under: Creative Commons 3.0 [SRC])

Ready to get your money's worth?

Freeze your credit reports!

Do it. Do it now. It's free as of 2018 and it actually helps to prevent ID theft. (this link goes to the FTC article on freezes and links to each of the three websites and gives phone numbers in case the websites aren't working for some reason).

Each company will try to steer you into some kind of monitoring, credit score, or service plan that will allow them to keep making money on you. Make sure you don't fall for it. You should be able to get through the whole process without pulling out your credit card. If not, you probably took a wrong turn somewhere, so go back and try again.

Now, if you are currently paying for some kind of monitoring or protection service, take your notes from the exercises in the previous lessons and go down the list of "features" for your service. As yourself whether the "feature" still makes sense now that you have freeze in place. Let me help you get started:

And so on... Bottom line, you have to make your own decisions and determine if you're happy with what you pay for what you get. But even if you decide to keep paying, the freeze made you more secure today than you were yesterday so your final exercise for this section:

Send this link to at least one other person, but preferably everyone you know: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs#place. Tell them that it's a free and legally-mandated right to protect your credit reports the way we should have been able to from the beginning.

Course Guide for: Goodbye Identity Theft

Next lesson:
Why “Data Defense”?

It's common to say "I have nothing to hide" when in reality, that's a dangerous belief. It's important to understand that information equals threat and you'll be far safer, not just from ID Theft, but many other kinds of threats by changing your mindset about privacy and data protection.

Or choose a lesson below:

Have a Comment or Question?

25 Comments to “Blocking ID Theft with Credit Security Freezes”

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Thanks for the comprehensive guide. I completely agree that locking your credit is the only way to go to truly protect one’s identity and credit history.

    The key is to help everyone else learn it to. Credit reporting companies lobbied hard to keep the freeze laws from passing, but now that we’ve won, it doesn’t do us much good until people know it’s there and actually use it!

I have been reading everything that you have to say about freezing credit. I have a question regarding that. If I were to freeze my credit and later in time wanted to purchase a house, I would now have to go through the process of unfreezing it correct? So after I pay to unfreeze my credit, is it just giving a me a certain time limit before it closes again or would I have to pay again to freeze it back up?

    Not unfreezing it. A temporary unfreeze is called a “thaw” and you can do a company-based thaw or a time-based thaw (depending on the state, but I think most allow both). The price for either is the same and usually is the same as what you spend to freeze it in the first place.

    Either way, once you apply for a thaw and pay the thaw fee, your credit can be accessed by only that named company one time (at which point it’s locked automatically (and isn’t open to anyone else during that time). If you think you need to allow several credit checks in a short period, a time-based thaw might be better. The time thaw allows ANYONE in, but only for a short period. Clearly this is less preferred because identity theft becomes more possible when your report is open for access, but due to the small window of time (usually a few days or a week, your choice), it’s still better than having it unlocked all the time.

Equifax requires you to MAIL in your name rank and serial number and other crap just to get a 10 digit pin!!!!!!

The address is-

Equifax security freeze
po box 105788
atlanta, ga 30348

Considering all of the thieves there are in the USPS system the address is enough to show some potential thief that the contents of the letter is worth his while to open.

However, Equifax has it’s own form of ID theft for something like $14.95 per month. Well, well….what a miracle that is!

Thanks for this comprehensive guide! It’s now time to ditch LifeLock- I actually wasn’t aware that the “fraud locks” that they use so extensively had been rendered ineffective with recent legislation. A real freeze is definitely the way to go!

Indiana & South Carolina passed laws that allow their consumers to place, thaw, or permanently lift security freezes with all of the CSCs at NO COST. I am curious why more consumer groups haven’t effectively lobbied for the same benefit for all consumers. My wife & I have had our credit frozen for 4 years and have had no problem thawing it when we financed a car or refinanced our mortgage (effective immediately if done online). Our credit score has gone up during this same period, we don’t receive junk mail (also used optoutprescreen.com) and have not had to pay a dime for this piece of mind since we live in Indiana. Even if you have to pay, a credit freeze is the best investment you can make in preventing financial ID theft…great article!

    Consider that credit reporting companies make money only by collecting and reselling your information. Each person who they can’t prevent from freezing a report is a loss to them. You can surely see why they lobbied so hard and so long to prevent these laws from passing.

    Good news for people in SC though! Thanks for the tip 🙂

Jeremy,

I appreciate your articles warning people of companies like lifelock and also giving better alternatives. I was just about to sign up for LL when I decided to look up some reviews, so again thanks for saving me. My wife and I recently had a lot of personal information stolen, (bank account statements, credit card statements, SSN, pretty much everything criminals would need)I’m pretty sure thats not what they were looking for but regardless they have it now. I was wondering what you would recommend moving forward? Besides just the credit freezes is there anything else I should do? These past few days have left us feeling pretty helpless regarding security so any info you could give would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you

    Just freeze your credit reports and be careful with your information. Until they give us the right to lock or removes our even bigger reports with the data brokers, there’s not a lot else you can do. The good news is you can at least stop most of ID theft with a freeze and the rest is just about learning to be more private. You CAN get your name off some data broker lists. There’s a manual way to do it and you can pay to have it done: http://www.thegeekprofessor.com/rps/opt-out-detectives/

recently lost my job after 35yrs. i have never heard about credit files ’til now, is it wise to check it? is wise for anyone to claim their cfile?

tia

    So you never applied for any credit cards or car loans, house loans? Or when you did, you didn’t know they were checking your “Credit Reports”?

    That’s cool if you don’t use credit for things (most of us shouldn’t), but you probably have a credit report anyway. Just freeze the reports and don’t worry about them. You don’t have to do anything different.

      yes i have applied for loans, but never occurred to me the credit file was my responsibility

      why don’t schools teach this stuff to our kids, this should be a prerequisite on safety

      thank you very much

      Most people beleive that credit is all your responsibility. Even though companies have spent years and millions finding clever ways to make it harder for you to manage your money, it’s still your fault.

      I don’t really see it that way, but at least we have freeze laws. They shouldn’t cost us anything, but beggars can’t be choosers at the moment.

Ok so if i freeze my credit and then go to apply to rent a house will i have to thaw it for my credit to be run for the rent application?

    Yes you will. This is just the system working as intended in that no one who doesn’t have an existing credit relationship with you should be able to see your credit unless you unlock it for them ahead of time.

    Do be aware that many places check your credit because they can, but they don’t actually need to. Both my electric and cable companies tried, but I told them to shove off. I got service anyway.

      ok awesome thanks for your help

      Good on you, Jeremy! If everyone did what you do, this data-collecting frenzy by all corporations would end. The NSA ONLY DOES WHAT IT DOES BECAUSE IT SAW HOW EASY IT IS TO BUFFALO PEOPLE IN GIVING UP THEIR PRIVACY! Remember, the Constitution says we have a right to be secure in our papers.

      Once I was asked for my driver’s license at TARGET for an innocuous purchase because I presented US CASH FOR PAYMENT! They lost me PERMANENTLY AS A CUSTOMER.

do i need to “thaw” whenever i check my credit score (through annualcreditreport)???

If a put a freeze on my credit, can I still make small ticket purchases like gas,food and clothing on my cards?

Here is a real stinker, I recently checked my credit file for the first time: Viewing it and saw the credit file creation was on April 1, what a joke! Is there a legal way to change the date creation and move 1 day backward or forward ? Thank you.

What about ID THIEVES who steal your medical services from Medicare and secondary insurers? It is known that HIIPA does nothing but give you a false sense of security that entire medical information is safe. This info contains everything about you medically as well as financially and is available to thieving professionals.

    To me this is as important as the rest of it! I once met a woman who was dealing with medical identity theft and it was a real nightmare. And because I have health issues this would devastate me in more ways than one. Hope Jeremy looks into this, too!

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Data Abuse

Data brokering is the practice of collecting as much data as possible about customers or visitors into profiles. Then the data is sold, shared, or lost in data breaches to be used in targeted marketing or ID Theft.

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Credit Report Companies

Credit reporting company such as Transunion, Equifax, or Experian. Sometimes referred to as a credit bureau or a credit reporting agency, but referred to as companies on this site to stress the fact that these are not agencies or bureaus (which sound like government organizations) and are actually just data brokers that specialize in credit information.