What Is a Security Freeze?
A security freeze, also called a credit freeze or credit security freeze, allows a person to prevent a credit reporting bureau from disclosing his or her credit score, credit report, and other information.
When someone requests a new line of credit, applies for a cell phone account, finds a new apartment, or pursues many other aspects of modern life, the person processing the information looks at the applicant's credit score and report to determine whether he or she is a good risk for paying off debts and other expenses. A security freeze prevents anyone from accessing this information, thereby preventing anyone from opening a new account or line of credit in that person's name. However, it's important to note that a credit security freeze will not prevent an identity thief from using an existing account or line of credit to steal.
There aren't many situations in which you'd want to place a security freeze on your name and credit information, but for victims of identity theft, a security freeze is a very important tool for limiting the damage. Among the first things that identity thieves do after stealing victims' personal information is apply for credit cards and cell phone accounts and obtain loans in victims' names. A credit security freeze effectively prevents that from happening.
To place a security freeze on your information, you must contact TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian, the three credit reporting bureaus in the U.S. Generally speaking, you'll have to pay a fee to each bureau to freeze the information. However, some states prevent credit bureaus from imposing security freeze fees or designate a modest amount that bureaus can charge for this service. If you choose, you can "thaw" the freeze on the account information by using the Personal Identification Number (PIN) provided by each bureau when you requested the freeze. The length of time it takes to "thaw" this information can vary, based on bureau policy or state law.
For victims of identity theft, a security freeze can be a huge help when they need help the most. An identity monitoring service can also be a huge help under such circumstances when it offers members professional support, ID theft insurance, document recovery, and other helpful benefits that can help them through the long, difficult process of restoring their identities.