If you were one of the 143 million Americans affected by the Equifax security breach and fear what damage hackers or other criminals might do to your credit, then this information is for you.
You may choose to place a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit report. Here is the difference between the two and how to do it.
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A credit freeze locks your credit down like a vault. No new credit can be established while a freeze is in place. In order to initiate a credit freeze, you will need to contact each of the individual credit reporting agencies. Below are their phone numbers. You will be required to prove your identity.
You ‘ll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. Fees vary depending on the state you live in, but commonly range from $5 to $10.
After you place the freeze, each bureau will send you an individual PIN number. Keep this safe as you will need it in order to unfreeze your credit. You can lift the freeze temporarily or permanently. The bureaus have three days to lift the freeze. Again depending where you live, the cost to lift will vary.
It’s important to know that a credit freeze will not prevent your existing accounts to be accessed. You should check your statements regularly and continue to monitor your accounts for suspicious activity. You can still apply for credit but you’ll have to temporarily lift the freeze in order to do so. Also, a freeze will not affect your credit scores and you can still access your free annual credit report.
A fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report as long as they take steps to verify your identity. For example, if you give the bureaus a phone number, the lender must call you to verify the application for credit is legitimate.
Fraud alert may prevent someone from opening new credit in your name, but again, it will not prevent someone from accessing your existing accounts. You will still want to monitor all of your accounts.
Fraud alerts are free, and if you notify one of the credit reporting agencies, they will inform the others of the Fraud alert and in turn will apply the alert on your credit. No need to call all three. Below are the three different types of fraud alerts available.
- Initial Fraud Alert: This is for when you are temporarily worried about your identity, like if your wallet was stolen.
- Extended Fraud Alert: These alerts are for identity theft victims and puts a Fraud alert on the file for 7 years.
- Active Duty Military Alert: For those in the military who want to protect their credit while deployed, this fraud alert lasts for one year.
If you are considering whether or not to put a freeze or fraud alert on your credit, I suggest you consider how often you need access to credit when making your decision. If you plan to get pre-approved for a home loan or purchase a car in the near future, then a fraud alert will allow you to do so without taking extra steps. If your credit is set the way you want it, then a freeze could work to keep it that way.
Here are the phone numbers for the credit reporting agencies (also called credit bureaus):
Equifax — 1-800-349-996
Experian — 1‑888‑397‑3742
TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
Many thanks to Chad Kusner, President, Credit Repair Resources, LLC, for this valuable information.
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