[ALERT] Freeze Your Credit Files For Free

Category: Privacy

A new U. S. federal law went into effect recently, allowing citizens to freeze and unfreeze access to their credit report files for free. Previously, credit reporting agencies such as Transunion, Experian and Equifax were allowed to charge for that service. Today you'll learn how credit freezes work, how they are different than 'credit locks' and why you should freeze ALL FIVE of your credit report files now. All five? Yes, read on!

What Is A Credit Freeze?

Most people know about the Big Three credit reporting agencies: Transunion, Experian and Equifax. But there are actually five that you should know about. I'll give you contact information and credit freeze details for all of them in this article.

When you order a freeze on your credit file kept at a Credit Reporting Agency (CRA), it means that no one – including you – can access the credit data in the file without your prior explicit permission.

So after you freeze your credit file, if you want to apply for a loan or new credit account, you will have to make arrangements with the CRA used by the lender to allow that lender access to your credit report; all other entities will remain frozen out. That lender’s access can be limited to a specified period of time, at the expiration of which the freeze returns.

How to freeze your credit reports for free

Alternatively, you can tell a credit reporting agency to allow a specific lender ongoing access to your credit file while freezing out everyone else. Simplest of all options is to toggle the freeze on and off for everyone, but don’t leave the freeze off any longer than necessary

The new federal law – actually, a set of amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act and related existing laws - supersedes a patchwork of state laws regarding credit freezes. It makes freezing and unfreezing your credit files free of charge to you. CRAs used to charge as much as $10 every time you froze your file. They even charged fees to unfreeze a file, despite the fact that it is very much in a CRA’s best interest for you to leave your credit file unfrozen.

Why Freeze Your Credit Files?

CRAs collect credit data from creditors, and sell their accumulated data to many different kinds of nosey firms. Your credit report is the foundation of the enormous distributed dossier of personal data about you that exists unless you have been living off the grid all your life. CRAs make a lot of money selling data about you. This new law gives you the power to control credit data about you even though it is "owned" by CRAs.

Identity theft is much more difficult when a target’s credit file is frozen. Most credit files contain all the data needed to open a bank account, rent property, replace a “lost’” driver’s license or state ID card, and generally impersonate you.

Freezing your credit files helps to stop privacy leaks at their roots. As I said, a credit file is the foundation of the dossier that tells marketers – among other types of firms - what you buy, where you buy it, how much you spend, and other personal data obtained through Web activity tracking and other marketers’ tricks. Without your credit file data, nosey firms have a more difficult time keeping track of you.

What A Credit Freeze Won’t Do

A credit file freeze alone won’t completely eliminate the risk of privacy leaks or ID theft. The personal data needed to impersonate you is duplicated in many databases that have been stolen, sold, and resold by crooks many times. (See my article Equifax Takes The Data Breach Cake for details of how the Equifax breach allowed hackers access to the records of almost 200 million people.)

If a crook has a good reason to be interested in you particularly, he can piece together your personal data from the many stolen databases out there on the dark Web. But generally, ID thieves get plenty of victims from thefts of credit files and don’t look for more work. A credit freeze is a good start on protecting your identity.

Beware of Credit “Locks”

When you approach a CRA to freeze your credit, the CRA will try to persuade you to implement a “credit lock” instead. They’ll tell you a lock is as good as a freeze and your credit file can be locked or unlocked in minutes instead of the “up to five business days” that it can take to freeze or unfreeze a file. There are two reasons to insist on a credit freeze instead of substituting a credit lock.

A credit freeze is free; the law forbids CRAs from charging consumers to freeze or unfreeze their credit files. CRAs often lure people into credit locks that are free for a period of time but eventually cost an annual or monthly fee that is charged to your credit/debit card automatically. Or they may make the lock free if you accept online ads and marketing pitches; sales of advertising replaces consumer-paid fees.

And in some cases, a credit lock does not provide the same privacy protection as a freeze. For example, with an Experian credit lock, a potential employer or insurer can still see your credit report. But they can't if it's a frozen credit report.

A credit freeze’s terms are set by federal law, while a credit lock is a contract written by a CRA. That contract contains a clause that allows the CRA to change the contract’s terms unilaterally at any time. Appealing a change to terms of a credit lock or a breach of the contract is a tedious game rigged in a CRA’s favor; for instance, you may have to pay the fee of a private arbitration firm that is chosen by the CRA in question.

Insist on a credit freeze to get protection you can count on being there when you need it, and that can be enforced in public courts instead of private mock courts essentially “owned” by the CRA that does you wrong.

The Big Three, Plus Two

Remember that I mentioned earlier that there are FIVE credit reporting agencies that you need to know about? The fourth-largest credit reporting agency is Innovis, and you have probably never heard of it because who cares about a fourth-place anything? But you should put a freeze on your Innovis credit file as well as those maintained by the Big Three CRAs.

In addition, there are many firms that specialize in particular types of consumer data. One such firm of importance to most consumers is the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange. As its name implies, the NCTUE collects data used by telephone service providers and public utilities to approve a consumer for credit that enables opening of accounts for phone and Internet service, electricity, water, natural gas, trash pickup, etc. It behooves you to freeze this important source of your personal data and enabler of ID theft as well.

Here is a summary of contacts for freezing your credit fles by going online, calling by phone, or writing a paper letter to the relevant CRA:

Equifax Freeze Online
Phone: 1-800-349-9960 (automated), 1-888-298-0045 (live operator)
Mail: Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, Georgia 30348

Experian Freeze Online
Phone: 1-888-397-3742
Mail: Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, Texas 75013

TransUnion Freeze Online
Phone: 1-888-909-8872
Mail: TransUnion LLC, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016

Innovis Freeze Online
Phone: 1-800-540-2505
Mail: Attention: Consumer Assistance, P.O. Box 1358, Columbus, Ohio 43216-1358

National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange Freeze Online
Phone: 1-866-349-5355
Mail: NCTUE Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105561, Atlanta, GA 30348

Have you implemented a credit report freeze? Did you freeze ALL of your credit files? Tell me about your experience. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "[ALERT] Freeze Your Credit Files For Free"

Posted by:

Mac 'n' Cheese
24 Sep 2018

Ha! I've been putting off getting a freeze on my credit files for years because (1) I never got a "round tuit," and (2) because I balked at paying the $10 per firm to put the freezes in place--plus the possible fees to unfreeze them should the need arise.

But now (thank you, Bob) it's something I'll be doing TODAY.

Mac 'n' Cheese


Posted by:

dennis
24 Sep 2018

We've had our credit reports frozen for years now. Yes, it cost $10 to open again and then close again - all three of them. We will now add NCTUE and Innovis. Thank you Bob for that update!


Posted by:

Brent
24 Sep 2018

Great advice,but you should also freeze both accounts if you are married.
Also do not forget the pin number you get from the
credit reporting agencies.I have mine saved in LastPass.

Brent.


Posted by:

Will
24 Sep 2018

Is there a way to review my data in NEXIS database and how does it relate to the CRA's?


Posted by:

Don
24 Sep 2018

As usual great and USEFUL information. I'm sure I'm among many that didn't now about the other two CRA's. That's why I'm now 146% smarter!

Thanks Bob!


Posted by:

BobD
24 Sep 2018

Thanks, Bob.
Important info.
I didn't know about National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange.
I just tried to freeze them, and got "We are currently unable to service your request.
Please try again later.", presumably because several million of your readers are trying at the same time.


Posted by:

DonnyB
24 Sep 2018

Thank you Bob. Great research and information.
- Long time reader


Posted by:

Mac 'n' Cheese
24 Sep 2018

Here's a report of my experience freezing my credit files at the five agencies:

1. Equifax: I first tried the "live operator" option. The automated answering service said there was a long hold time. Correct! I was on hold for 22 minutes. I then spoke with a delightful lady who told me their system was undergoing an update, and I would need to call back in an hour. I proceeded to call the others, and will call Equifax back after completing the other calls.

2. Experian: The automated system allowed me to place a freeze in less than five minutes. I was given an 8-digit PIN, and I was told to expect confirmation by mail in 10 business days.

3. TransUnion: The system froze my account in less than 5 minutes. I was told to select my own 6-digit PIN, and I was told I would receive mail confirmation in 5-7 business days.

4. Innovis: The answering prompt was vague. By trial and error, I discovered I could place a freeze by saying I had questions about fraud. The system took less than five minutes to freeze my account. I was NOT given any PIN number, but I was told it would arrive by mail within 7-10 days.

5. National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange Freeze Online: The system threw me for a loop. I was asked if I want to freeze my file on
a. National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange
b. Centralized Credit Check System
c. New York Data Exchange
d. California Utilities Exchange

I had no idea which one to choose, so I decided I'd do all four, one at a time. The freeze for the the first one, NCTUE took only a few minutes. I was given a 10-digit PIN and a 10-digit confirmation number.

Since I live in California, I chose to do California Utilities Exchange next, but the system said they were unable to process my request by telephone. I would have to request a freeze by mail. I decided not to pursue it further.

6. Back to Equifax, where I'd endured a 22-minute wait, only to be told to call back in an hour. By now, only about 30 minutes had passed, but I decided to try the Equifax automated line. The process was quick and uneventful. I got my 10-digit PIN and 10-digit confirmation number.

My recommendation: Do NOT try the Equifax live operator. Wait times are huge, probably because the new law only took effect on September 21, 2018, and the word is now spreading across the nation. All the automated systems worked quickly and flawlessly, with no wait times.

You'll need the following information:
Your name
The digits of your address
Your Social Security Number
Your birth date

Again, the process is quick and easy, and FREE!

Mac 'n' Cheese


Posted by:

Jay R
24 Sep 2018

Well, I'll be damned. I din't learn everything I needed to know in kindergarten. THANK YOU, Bob.


Posted by:

Stuart Berg
24 Sep 2018

Bob,
You missed one important credit agency that needs to be frozen, ChexSystems. This is their website:
https://www.chexsystems.com
If you click on the "Security Freeze" tab near the top of the above linked web-page you will be able to freeze them as well.
Stu


Posted by:

MARK E SMITH
24 Sep 2018

I've put off the freezes and you made it easy.
Worthwhile for many. THANKS.


Posted by:

Kirsten
25 Sep 2018

How will this affect checking my annual credit report online?


Posted by:

Lone Eagle
25 Sep 2018

Signed up to freeze with all 5 CRAs online in about 20 minutes! The only weird one was Innovis - that one seemed TOO simple.


Posted by:

R.S. Elam
25 Sep 2018

NCTUE sounds like a step in the direction of the Social Credits of China. SCARY!


Posted by:

Gary Rachuba
28 Sep 2018

I was very surprised to hear about NCTUE and Innovis mentioned in your news letter. I have frozen both me and my spouse's accounts. Was very easy with Innovis. I got my personal account frozen with NCTUE, but for some reason I have to write in to get my spouse's account frozen. A word on Equifax. For the last two years I could not answer their security questions so I had to send in the forms to get them to mail my reports. I called Equifax to freeze my account and I could not answer the security questions with my Equifax credit report in my hand that I had received the week prior to this call. By reading material off my in-hand credit report to the lady -- she eventually said that I had provided her with enough information for her to freeze my account. The problem with the security questions was that NONE of them applied to me so I answered all question with the answer of none of the above. The lady said they were just general questions about my history with them. I still did not get a resolution to that problem. Has any of your readers had this problem with Equifax? How can I get them to straighten this out so I don't have to send the form in every year. I don't have this problem with Experian and Transunion. Bob, thanks so much for the valuable information you disseminate us through you news letters.


Posted by:

Toby
04 Oct 2018

Thank you so much, Bob. I signed up to freeze with all 5 agencies, and it was easy to do!


Posted by:

KATHLEEN
03 Nov 2018

Easy to do but not finding it as easy to undo as I unexpectedly need to replace my totaled car.


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