The strategy of setting a “credit freeze” with one or more of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — has never gotten more publicity than it has since the revelation of the massive data breach at Equifax.
A credit freeze is designed to stop a criminal from opening new credit card accounts or other loans in your name. The hassle is that freezes also block legitimate inquiries. Moreover, if you want to open new credit accounts, you’ll need to lift the freeze first. This can be done temporarily, either for a set time or for a certain party.
Nonetheless, a freeze is the best security against identity theft. It’s not something you would do if you’re currently shopping for a mortgage or a car loan. But if you’re not, it’s something to consider if you believe you are vulnerable to identity thieves.
The Equifax hack, in which the names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers of 143 million people were exposed, may vastly increase the number of consumers who seek credit freezes.
“A security freeze is the most effective measure against ‘new account’ identity theft, because it stops thieves from using the consumer’s stolen information,” Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center told CNNMoney.
The cost of a freeze and lifting a freeze on your credit varyies. But they are reasonable, ranging from $2 to $10 per agency. If you’re a resident of certain states — such as Maine or South Carolina — it’s free.
There is another downside, although it’s more of a hassle. The credit reporting agencies don’t make it easy for consumers. You have to ask them individually to freeze your credit, and pay those fees to each one of them. They will also each ask for certain information.
Keep in mind, you are also entitled to one free credit report annually from each of the three bureaus. For your free report, you can go to: AnnualCreditReport.com. Regularly monitoring your credit report and credit scores has never been more important.