As you have probably heard, the fastest growing crime in the U.S. is identity theft. One of the ways that this is carried out is when someone uses your personal information, including your Social Security number, to open a credit account in your name. This can affect your ability to open your own credit account, as well as send debt collectors to your door, since the loan is in your name.
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If you want to protect your credit from identity theft, you can get a freeze put on your credit report. When this happens, no new accounts can be opened in your name. This can be a way to stop identity thieves from using your good name to borrow money for their own use.
How to Get a Credit Freeze
First of all, it is important to understand that you will need a credit freeze at each of the major credit bureaus if you want complete protection. A credit freeze at one credit bureau will not result in a credit freeze at the other two. You will have to complete the process with each credit bureau.
Most states have laws requiring the credit bureaus to let you put a freeze on your credit. Even if your state doesn’t have a specific law about placing a credit freeze, all three credit bureaus offer the service to all consumers in the U.S. In order to get your credit freeze, you will need to visit the web sites of Equifax, TransUnion and Experian to find out what the process is for getting your credit freeze.
In most cases, if you have already been a victim of identity theft, you can place a credit freeze on each of your credit reports for free. If you want a credit freeze in order to prevent it happening for the first time, you might have to pay a fee. Depending on your state, and the laws associated with placing a credit freeze on your file, you will pay a different amount. Check with each individual credit bureau to find out the fee for your state. You might also have to pay a fee to remove the credit freeze from your report.
Getting Credit When Your File is Frozen
Realize that once you place a credit freeze on your report it will be more difficult for you to get a loan as well. You might need a PIN or a password to get through the freeze, indicating that you are the one applying for credit — not an impostor. You can also ask for a “thaw” in some cases if you are planning to apply for credit. This is a temporary lift in the freeze so that you can apply with specific lenders.
If you want to compare different loan rates, and you expect that a number of creditors will be checking your report, it might be worth it to lift the credit freeze altogether to smooth the process. It can take a few days for the freeze to be lifted, though, so it is a good idea to plan ahead if you know you will be applying for credit.
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own blog at Miranda Marquit.