Credit freezes are more useful when you know your personal information has been compromised, such as your Social Security number, address, birthday and other identifying information. Equifax allows you to request a credit freeze either online or by phone.
Many factors affect your credit score — new accounts, available credit, on-time payments — and all of them can be hijacked by fraudsters. But you can protect yourself from identity theft by placing a credit freeze on your file.
A credit freeze prevents lenders from pulling your credit report. Without those pieces of data, they won’t be able to approve you for a new account, which means that fraudsters trying to use your information will be stopped in their tracks.
Essentially, a credit freeze locks your credit file when it comes to new accounts. Your current creditors can still access the file as it relates to your existing loans and creditors. But they won’t be able to open new credit lines in your name as long as the freeze is in place. As for new creditors, they won’t be able to view that data and use it to open new loans or lines of credit either.
Placing a freeze is a fairly straightforward process. But you should know that to really safeguard against hackers, you’ll need to request freezes with the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).
How much does a credit freeze cost?
Credit freezes are free to request and remove. You will not have to pay for a credit freeze with Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.
How do I freeze my credit with Equifax?
The easiest way to freeze your credit with Equifax is to create an online account and request the freeze through the bureau’s website. You’ll then be able to temporarily and permanently remove the block via the website when you’re ready. You can also mail in a request.
If you need to request a credit freeze for your child, another adult for whom you have power of attorney or a military service member, you’ll need to provide proof of your identity and theirs, along with documentation showing that you’re authorized to handle their account.
Keep in mind that when you place a credit freeze, it doesn’t stop fraudsters from making charges if they have access to your existing accounts. A credit freeze helps prevent fraudulent account creation, but it won’t protect your current cards.
You can also freeze your credit with Equifax over the phone. All you have to do is call 1-(888) 298-0045 to start the process. You’ll need to provide information verifying your identity and will have the option to receive a one-time PIN by text message or answer questions based on information in your Equifax credit report for identity verification.
Other security measures
After you’ve lifted your credit freeze, you’ll want to continue keeping tabs on your account activity. One way to do this is through a fraud alert. By placing a fraud alert on your Equifax file, you’ll receive a phone call or another type of notification every time a lender pulls your credit. That way, you’ll get a heads up as soon as someone tries to open an account in your name. The nice thing about fraud alerts is that when you place one with Equifax, it will alert TransUnion and Experian as well. (Same goes for placing a fraud alert with one of those other bureaus first.)
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft and have a police report, you can also request an extended fraud alert. Unlike the standard alert, which you must renew annually to keep in place, an extended alert stays active for seven years.
You can also set up a credit lock, which is similar to a freeze, except that you’ll lock and unlock your file via a mobile app. The advantage of a credit lock is that you can set up a biometric login, such as your fingerprint, and unlock your account instantly whenever you want to apply for credit.
Monitor your accounts
Check your transaction logs once a week to catch any fraudulent purchases. You can even set up purchase notifications through your bank’s or lender’s mobile app, so you can see every time something gets charged to your account.
Make sure to request your free credit report from each of the bureaus every year, which you can do at AnnualCreditReport.com. Review each one carefully to make sure all of your account information is accurate.
If you decide you want to freeze your credit with Equifax, you can do so for free online or over the phone. Credit freezes and fraud alerts are helpful if you think your data has been exposed or you suspect you might be the victim of identity theft. But general vigilance is essential to protect your data and your finances.