What is a credit security freeze and how does it work?
Though sometimes discouraged by the credit reporting agencies and many credit grantors, a credit security freeze (also commonly referred to as a credit freeze) can be a powerful tool to prevent potential creditors, insurers, and others with whom you do not have an existing account or business relationship from obtaining or accessing your credit file until you remove the freeze, or temporarily lift the freeze using a special password or PIN.
This feature makes a credit security freeze a beneficial credit protection tool in fighting many incidents of credit-related identity theft.
Does a credit security freeze stop everyone from accessing my credit report?
No. The placement of a security freeze on your credit report does not prevent those with whom you have an existing account, or a collection agency acting on behalf of the existing account, from accessing your credit report for the purpose of account maintenance, reviewing, monitoring, considering credit line increases, account upgrades and enhancements, or collecting on a delinquent account. Your credit file information may also still be used for the purposes of prescreened credit and insurance offers as allowed under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (unless you have opted-out of such lists), even if you have a security freeze on your credit file. Your credit file also remains available to law enforcement agencies conducting criminal background checks, and to government agencies responsible for collecting child support payments, taxes, or investigating medical fraud.
By placing a credit freeze, many fraudulent credit account applications can be stopped because the prospective creditor is unable to view your credit report and make a credit decision. To be effective, however, you should place a freeze on your credit file at each of the national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis). However, even this is not 100% guaranteed as some credit issuers may still choose to extend credit based upon other information that is available to them. Further, accounts that may not require access to your credit report, such as banking, wireless / cellular, cable, internet, utilities, rental accounts, etc. may still be opened.
Tip: While in place, a security freeze can also impact you if you are applying for credit yourself. You will need to remember to contact the credit bureau(s) and request that the freeze be temporarily lifted in general, or lifted for only a specific company, so that your credit report can be accessed in conjunction with your application for credit. You can temporarily lift a freeze and then have it reinstated, but be aware that in most states it can take up to 3 business days to lift a freeze, and then additional time to reinstate it.