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The Great Equifax Debacle of 2017 How to Check If Your Data Was Stolen in the Equifax Breach How to Check If Your Data Was Stolen in the Equifax Breach News just surfaced of a data breach that affects up to 80 percent of all U.S. credit card users. Are you one of them? Here's how to check. Read More is just one more in a long line of security breaches that may have released your sensitive personal details into the wild. If that data falls into the wrong hands Here's How Much Your Identity Could Be Worth on the Dark Web Here's How Much Your Identity Could Be Worth on the Dark Web It's uncomfortable to think of yourself as a commodity, but all of your personal details, from name and address to bank account details, are worth something to online criminals. How much are you worth? Read More , someone could use it to steal your identify and ruin your life.

But let’s say your details have been compromised but your identity hasn’t yet been stolen. Is there anything you can do to mitigate your risks? Or is your only option to sit back, wait, and hope that your compromised details are never actually used?

As it turns out, yes, there is something you can do: freeze your credit. In this article, we’ll explain what that is, the benefits and drawbacks of it, and instructions on how to do it.

What Is a Credit Freeze?

In America, any person who has any kind of credit or has ever had credit in the past is tracked by non-governmental companies known as consumer reporting agencies (informally known as “credit bureaus”). The three national ones are TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.

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These consumer reporting agencies then sell your credit information and history to potential creditors who want to know your credit worthiness (i.e. how risky it would be to lend you money). This is called a “hard pull” and is necessary when you want to open new lines of credit.

When you initiate a security freeze (informally known as a “credit freeze”), you’re basically telling a consumer reporting agency that you want to seal your credit information and make it unavailable to creditors. This makes it impossible to open new lines of credit in your name.

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Why Freeze Credit? The Benefits

Freezing credit is a five-minute process and can be done on the internet or by phone. It’s quick and pain-free, so there’s no reason to put it off. Upon freezing your credit, you’ll receive a special PIN code. This PIN code can be used for two things:

  • Temporarily lift the freeze for a certain duration or a certain creditor.
  • Permanently remove the freeze for good.

Needless to say, it’s imperative that you DO NOT lose your PIN code.

Once your credit is frozen, nobody can open new lines of credit in your name as long as they don’t know your special PIN code. This means no new credit cards, no mortgage or auto loans, no new insurance policies, no consumer financing (e.g. monthly plans for smartphones, laptops, or furniture), no new utility accounts, and no new bank accounts.

A credit freeze does NOT impact your current lines of credits.

If you have three credit cards and a mortgage, nothing will change after a freeze. You can keep using the cards per usual, and you’ll still be responsible for repaying the mortgage. Nothing to worry about on that front.

Ultimately, with a credit freeze in place, malevolent users can’t do anything to you even if they get their hands on your social security number, thus protecting your credit score 5 Tricks to Improve Your Credit Score in Just 6 Months 5 Tricks to Improve Your Credit Score in Just 6 Months Improving your credit score seems complicated and confusing -- but it doesn't have to be! See how one writer went from the 300s to the high 600s in six months. Read More .

The Downsides to Freezing Credit

As useful as it is, there are a few downsides to freezing credit.

Some third parties may want to run credit checks even when you aren’t opening new lines of credit. Landlords want to know if you’ll pay your rent on time, and some employers may want to see your financial trustworthiness, especially if you’ll have access to financial accounts (e.g. cashier, accountant).

More importantly, credit freezes and thaws may require a fee. The fee varies depending on the consumer reporting agency and your resident state. Most charge $10 per freeze, some charge $5 per freeze, and a few may charge no fee. You may also have to pay to lift or remove the freeze, which usually costs the same as initiating the freeze.

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When freezing credit, you must freeze at ALL THREE consumer reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. This could cost up to $30 to freeze, then up to another $30 to lift or remove the freeze. If you foresee several credit checks in the future, consider postponing the freeze.

Lastly, a credit freeze does not prevent ALL forms of identity theft. It protects you from new credit accounts unknowingly being opened, but your current credit accounts will still be alive and well — if someone steals your debit card, for example, they can still drain your bank account. A credit freeze is also ineffective against medical identity theft 5 Reasons Why Medical Identity Theft is Increasing 5 Reasons Why Medical Identity Theft is Increasing Scammers want your personal details and bank account information – but did you know that your medical records are also of interest to them? Find out what you can do about it. Read More .

How to Freeze Your Credit

You must freeze your credit at ALL THREE nationwide consumer reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. If you only freeze at one bureau, new lines of credit can still be opened by services that pull credit information from the other two.

TransUnion

Consult the TransUnion credit freeze fee table before starting.

To freeze online:
Visit the TransUnion freeze page, create an account, then follow the instructions. You can manage your freeze with this account, including lifts and removals.

To freeze by phone:
TransUnion recommends the online method, but if it isn’t working for some reason, you can always call 1-888-909-8872 and follow the prompts. Use the same number to lift or remove.

Experian

Consult the Experian credit freeze fee table before starting.

To freeze online:
Visit the Experian freeze request form, fill it out, then click Submit. You can then use the Experian unfreeze request form to lift or remove the freeze. No account creation necessary.

To freeze by phone:
Experian recommends using the online method, but if it isn’t working for some reason, you can always call 1-888-397-3742 and follow the prompts. Use the same number to lift or remove.

Equifax

Consult the Equifax credit freeze fee table before starting.

To freeze online:
Visit the Equifax freeze request form, fill it out, then click Submit. You can then use the Equifax unfreeze request form to lift or remove the freeze. No account creation necessary.

To freeze by phone:
Equifax recommends the online method, but if it isn’t working for some reason, you can always call 1-888-298-0045 and follow the prompts. Use the same number to lift or remove.

Other Tips for Preventing Identity Theft

The first thing you should do, whether you initiate a credit freeze or not, is to familiarize yourself with the warning signs of identity theft 6 Warning Signs Of Digital Identity Theft You Shouldn't Ignore 6 Warning Signs Of Digital Identity Theft You Shouldn't Ignore Identity theft isn't too rare of an occurrence these days, yet we often fall into the trap of thinking that it'll always happen to "someone else". Don't ignore the warning signs. Read More . The sooner you can identify that your identity is stolen, the more likely it’ll be that you can reverse the damage.

Next, be aware of all the inconspicuous ways your identity can be stolen: know what kind of information identity thieves seek 10 Pieces of Information That Are Used to Steal Your Identity 10 Pieces of Information That Are Used to Steal Your Identity According to the US Bureau of Justice, identity theft cost victims over $24 billion in 2012, more than household burglary, motor, and property theft combined. These 10 pieces of information are what thieves are looking... Read More , understand how credit card fraud works How Credit Card Fraud Works, And How To Stay Safe How Credit Card Fraud Works, And How To Stay Safe Despite what you may have heard, credit cards do get stolen, and credit card fraud happens, online and offline. But how does a thief get your card number, and how can you keep it safe? Read More , and learn how hackers steal identities on public Wi-Fi 5 Ways Hackers Can Use Public Wi-Fi to Steal Your Identity 5 Ways Hackers Can Use Public Wi-Fi to Steal Your Identity You might love using public Wi-Fi -- but so do hackers. Here are five ways cybercriminals can access your private data and steal your identity, while you're enjoying a latte and a bagel. Read More . Then start using disposable web accounts 5 Disposable Web Accounts to Keep Your Identity Safe 5 Disposable Web Accounts to Keep Your Identity Safe Identity theft is on the rise. According to StatisticBrain, between 12 and 15 million people lose an average of $5,000 per victim each year. One way to stay safe is with a disposable web identity. Read More to add another layer of protection against data leaks and breaches.

If your identity is stolen, immediately file a police report and let all your banks and lenders know so that they can walk you through the process of securing your accounts.

If you have any other questions about credit freezes, let us know in the comments. Otherwise, if you’ve ever frozen credit, let us know how it went!

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  1. Bruce Epper
    September 10, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    It should also be noted that the not personal "PIN" issued when freezing your credit at Equifax is not random and can be guessed or brute-forced easier than expected. It has been this way for more than a decade. If you have initiated a freeze since the breach announcement, the odds of a first-time guess as of today is better than 1 in 6,000 for the criminal.

  2. DrMP
    September 10, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    Thank you for an excellent and timely article that explains some available tools for the Equifax leak.

    • Joel Lee
      September 11, 2017 at 1:55 pm

      No problem, DrMP. Glad you found it useful!