Starting today, credit report freezing is available to all Americans for free with the top three credit reporting agencies (CRAs): Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Up until yesterday it generally cost $5 to $10, depending on your state of residence, to lock your report with each CRA, unless you were a victim of a credit breach like Equifax.
NEW CRA FREEZING LAW
Last May, an act of Congress was signed into law requiring consumers to freeze their credit without a fee. The freeze only permits those you designate to view your credit report.
The new law also requires the CRAs to freeze and unfreeze your credit history quickly. You can either do it by phone, mail, or online. If you do by online or by phone, they have to lift the freeze within one hour. It can be a pain-in-the butt, but can be worth it if your info is compromised.
If you have purchased a credit monitoring service you can easily lock and unlock your credit file with the click of a button.
Additionally, the new law extends the fraud alerts from 90 days to a full year. Under the process, credit report red flags are issued to you so if somebody does apply for credit in your name they have to verify with you whatever method you gave them. They have to reach out to verify your identity.
Once you request the CRAs to freeze your credit information they will mail you a PIN that you will use to unfreeze it.
THINK ABOUT CHILDREN TOO
Another aspect of the new law is the ability to set up a freeze on your young child’s credit report! Considering most parents apply for a Social Security number for their child at birth and then never check on it until perhaps the teen applies for a driver’s license, there is plenty of time for an unscrupulous person to steal the information and start using it for credit fraud. Note: there is no age identification on a Social Security number, so a new, fraudulent credit history could easily be built.
If your child has become an identity theft victim, go to www.IdentityTheft.gov/steps
One drawback it also freezes you from getting a new credit card, loan or other credit accounts. When you want to apply for a new account, you’ll need to unfreeze your credit.
CELL PHONE CREDIT INFO
Consumer advocates also recommend requesting a freeze with one more company — the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange.
The NCTUE also issues credit reports for people applying for cell phones. To prevent a thief from opening a cell phone account, and racking up bills in your name, you should freeze your credit with NCTUE.
To freeze your credit information with the CRAs, contact each of the three major credit bureaus after Friday’s fee change:
A credit freeze does not affect your credit score.
A credit freeze also does not:
• prevent you from getting your free annual credit report
• keep you from opening a new account, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance. But if you’re doing any of these, you’ll need to lift the freeze temporarily, either for a specific time or for a specific party, say, a potential landlord or employer. It’s free to lift the freeze and free to place it again when you’re done accessing your credit.
• prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. You still need to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.