Should You Freeze Your Credit? (And How To Do It)
After one of the largest data breaches in US history, here’s what you need to know about freezing your credit and staying safe.
Last week, the American credit score provider Equifax announced that 143 million of its US users were hacked between May and July of 2017. On top of that, the company also admitted to unintentionally exposing the credit card numbers of more than 200,000 users.
Now 44 percent of Americans are financially vulnerable, and at risk of having their identities stolen. Yikes!
Understandably, cybercrime folks are calling this disaster one of the largest data breaches in US history. What’s worse is, Equifax waited an entire month to let users know about the massive hack—and the company’s already messed up on recovery efforts.
When Equifax started implementing credit freezes for users affected by the breach, they gave users PIN numbers that weren’t randomly generated. As it turns out, those PINs are vulnerable to hackers as well. Now customers are so upset by Equifax’s repeated security failures that one person actually created a chatbot that lets other users sue Equifax for up to $25,000 without a lawyer.
In light of all this mayhem, now feels like a good time to talk about how to protect your identity from hackers.
Whether you’re one of the millions of Americans affected by the Equifax data breach or not (you can check right here,) here’s what it means to freeze your credit, how to do it, and how to undo it.
What does it mean to freeze your credit?
Freezing your credit just means you’re placing restrictions on who can view your credit report. If you freeze your credit, then credit lenders literally can’t pull it, making it way more difficult for fraudsters and identity thieves to get their eyes on your personal information.
When your credit is frozen, the only people who can view it are you, your existing lenders, their debt collectors, and government agencies carrying a search warrant or subpoena enabling them to view your information.
How does one freeze said credit?
Freezing your credit is fairly simple. To get started, you can visit the websites of Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, or any other agencies you might use. You can also call Equifax at (1-800-349-9960) Experian at (1-888-397-3742) and TransUnion at (1-888-909-8872).
Once you’ve frozen your credit, you should receive a PIN for whenever you need to unfreeze it. Whatever it ends up being, make sure you write that PIN down, or take a screenshot of it (or both,) because you’ll definitely need it later on.
Also, know that there’s typically a $5 to $10 fee to freeze your credit, but that fee is often waived for victims of identity theft.
What if you need to unfreeze your credit?
If a company does need to take a look at your credit report after you’ve already frozen the dang thing, rest assured that it’s not too difficult to unfreeze your credit.
Contact the credit bureaus that you spoke with when you had your credit frozen, and simply ask them to lift of “thaw” your credit freeze. You’ll need that PIN we were talking about earlier for this part, so make sure it’s handy.
Also, be prepared to pay a small fee, and know that you don’t have to choose between completely unfreezing your credit or keeping it frozen. If you need someone to take a look at your credit report, but you want your credit to return to its frozen state shortly thereafter, you can opt to just temporarily lift the freeze on your credit.
Heads up, though: Credit agencies have three business days to put the thaw into effect after you submit the request, so be sure to plan for a brief delay.
Ultimately, only you can decide if you should freeze your credit right now. We’re hoping you won’t need to—but whatever you decide, at least now you know how to get it done. And undone. Good luck!
Words: Elizabeth Enochs