It all started in 2003. A credit freeze law was first introduced in California but it was not until the year 2007 when the three (3) major credit bureaus- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion- announced that they would allow people to freeze their credit report. Let us first discuss what a credit freeze is and why it is being used by more and more people.
Credit Report Freeze - What it Means
A credit freeze, which is also called credit report freeze or a credit report lock down, gives an individual the control over his/her credit report. It is done to prevent other people from accessing your credit report unless you give them permission to do so. Lenders, insurers, potential employers, landlords, marketing companies etc. will not be allowed to tap into your credit report while it is on freeze. You can't even access it yourself.
You can gain access to your credit report again if you are going to make a request for a "thaw" or "unfreeze" from the credit bureau. Credit freeze is often viewed by people as a way to prevent other people especially scammers from accessing data from your credit report.
The Difference Between Credit Freeze and Fraud Alert
If someone is trying to open an account using your name, the creditor is then alerted to contact you (as the credit report owner). That is a fraud alert. It is not that reliable because a creditor can either choose to contact you or ignore this alert and continue with opening the account without letting you know. While if it a credit freeze, your credit report is totally not accessible no matter who is trying to access it, not even you. A creditor who wishes to get data regarding your credit report would just receive a message stating that the report has been frozen.
If you are planning on opening a new account, then you have to request for the freeze to be lifted. A credit freeze gives more protection when it comes to fraudulent acts or identity theft.
How do you freeze your credit report? With regards to fraud alert, it is simpler because you can just call the credit bureau and request for an alert. On the other hand, freezing a credit report requires more work. Here is how it is done: first
Freezing and Unfreezing Your Credit Report
Freezing your credit report. First, you should send a letter of request to the credit bureau. Together with this request are all the requirements for freezing. For instance, you would need to submit at least 2 copies of your proof of identification with your letter. There is also a freezing fee of $10 to $12 (the freezing fee varies depending on the state of residency) every time you make a request for a credit freeze. In some states, victims of identity theft are allowed to waive the freezing fee. They are just required to submit proper documentation such as police report or identity theft report to support their claim.
Unfreezing your credit report. This process can be done in minutes or up to 3 days or even a week with a fee of another $10 to $12 depending on the credit bureau holding your credit report. Again, you have to send a request to have it done.
There is also an option of unfreezing your credit report for a limited period of time. This is usually done when the credit report owner is applying for credit. He/She can request the credit bureau to just allow a few people to access your report. You just have to specify the names of these people.
Some people think that freezing their credit report can be very time-consuming considering the fact that you need to unfreeze it every time you want to access it, but if you would consider the importance of it, which is giving you protection from identity theft, then it's well worth it.