You realize that you have been the unfortunate victim of credit fraud. You suspect an identity thief has targeted you for a despicable online fraud scheme. You further realize that your personal information (name, date of birth, social security number) has been compromised and could very likely be the unwitting victim of identity theft. What do you do?
Freeze your Credit.
Many people are not aware of it — but a credit freeze can restrict access to your credit report, protects you in the event of a critical data breach, and from thieves attempting to open new accounts in your name. Freezing your credit can be negotiated with a reasonable measure of inherent flexibility and manageability. A consumer who takes action to freeze their credit can freeze and unfreeze their account as well as their minor children (dependents under 16 years of age).
For a consumer wishing to freeze their account, it is necessary to contact all three of the nationwide credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TranUnion. (We recommend sending credit freeze requests both via email and regular /certified mail).
What are Credit Reports?
Credit reports list your bill payment history, loans, current debt, and other financial information. They show where you work, live and whether you’ve been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy.
Credit reports help lenders decide if they’ll give you credit or approve a loan. The reports also help determine what interest rates they will charge you. Employers, insurers, and rental property owners may also look at your credit report. However, you won’t know which credit report a creditor or employer will use to check your credit.
Credit reporting agencies (CRAs) collect and maintain information for your credit reports. Each CRA manages its own records and might not have information about all your accounts. Even though there are differences between their reports, no agency is more important than the other. And the information each agency has must be accurate.
It’s important to check your credit reports regularly to make sure that your personal and financial information is accurate. It also helps to make sure nobody’s opened fraudulent accounts in your name. If you find errors on your credit report, take steps to have them corrected.
Free Credit Reports
You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) once every 12 months. You can request all three reports at once, or space them out throughout the year. Learn about other situations when you can request a free credit report.
Request Your Free Credit Report:
- By Phone: Call 1-877-322-8228. For TTY service, call 711 and ask the relay operator for 1-800-821-7232.
- By Mail: Complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form (PDF, Download Adobe Reader) and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service | PO Box 105281 | Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
If Your Request for a Free Credit Report is Denied contact the CRA directly to try to resolve the issue. The CRA should tell you the reason they denied your request and explain what to do next. Often, you will only need to provide information that was missing or incorrect on your application for a free credit report. If you can’t resolve your dispute with the CRA, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Credit Scores: A credit score is a number that rates your credit risk. It can help creditors determine whether to give you credit, decide the terms they offer, or the interest rate you pay. Having a high score can benefit you in many ways. It can make it easier for you to get a loan, rent an apartment, or lower your insurance rate.
The information in your credit report is used to calculate your credit score. It’s based on your:
- Payment history
- Outstanding balances
- Length of credit history
- Applications for new credit accounts
- Types of credit accounts (mortgages, car loans, credit cards)
It’s important to make sure your credit report is accurate, so your credit score can be too. You can have multiple credit scores as they are not calculated by the same credit reporting agencies that maintain your credit reports. Instead, they’re created by different companies or lenders that use their own credit scoring system.
Your free annual credit report does not include your credit score, but you can get your credit score from several sources. Your credit card company may give it to you for free. You could also buy it from one of the three major credit reporting agencies. When you receive your score, you often get information on how you can improve it.
Placing a credit freeze allows you to restrict access to your credit report. This is important after a data breach or identity theft when someone could use your personal information to apply for new credit accounts. Most creditors look at your credit report before opening a new account. But if you’ve frozen your credit report, creditors can’t access it, and probably won’t approve fraudulent applications.
You have the right to place or lift a credit freeze for free. You can place a freeze on your own credit files and on those of your children age 16 or younger.
To place a credit freeze contact each credit reporting agency online, by phone, or by postal mail.
Online: Experian Freeze Center
By mail, write to:
Experian Security Freeze
PO Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
Online: Equifax Credit Report Services
By mail, write to:
Equifax Information Services LLC
PO Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348-5788
Online: TransUnion Credit Freezes
By mail, write to:
PO Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Online: Innovis Freeze Options
By mail, write to:
Innovis Consumer Assistance
PO Box 26
Pittsburgh, PA 15230-0026
Your credit freeze will go into effect the next business day if you place it online or by phone. If you place the freeze by postal mail, it will be in effect three business days after the credit agency receives your request.
Lift a Credit Freeze: If you want lenders and other companies to be able to access your credit files again, you will need to lift your credit freeze permanently or temporarily. Contact each credit reporting agency. Some require you to use a PIN or password to lift your credit freeze. You can lift your credit freeze as often as you need to, without penalties. It takes one hour for a lift request to take effect if you place it online or by phone. It can take three business days if you request the lift by mail.
Errors on Your Credit Report: If you find errors on your credit report, write a letter disputing the error and include any supporting documentation. Then, send it to Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion.
The credit reporting agency (CRA) and the information provider are liable for correcting your credit report. This includes any inaccuracies or incomplete information. The responsibility to fix any errors falls under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. If your written dispute does not get the error fixed, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Negative Information in a Credit Report: Negative information in a credit report can include public records–tax liens, judgments, bankruptcies–that provide insight into your financial status and obligations. A credit reporting company generally can report most negative information for seven years.
Information about a lawsuit or a judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. Bankruptcies can be kept on your report for up to 10 years, and unpaid tax liens for 15 years.
Fixing Errors in a Credit Report: Anyone who denies you credit, housing, insurance, or a job because of a credit report must give you the name, address, and telephone number of the credit reporting agency (CRA) that provided the report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to request a free report within 60 days if a company denies you credit based on the report.
Contact both the credit reporting agency and the company that provided the information to the CRA.
Inform the CRA, in writing, what information you believe is inaccurate. Keep a copy of all correspondence.
Some companies may promise to repair or fix your credit for an upfront fee–but there is no way to remove negative information in your credit report if it is accurate.
File a Complaint: If you have a problem with credit reporting, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Equifax Data Breach: Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S., announced a data breach that affects 143 million consumers. The hackers accessed Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers. Equifax has now launched a tool that will let you know if you were affected by the breach. Visit Equifax’s website dedicated to this breach to learn if you were impacted. You will need to provide your last name and the last six numbers of your Social Security number. If you are impacted, Equifax offers you a free credit monitoring service, TrustedIDPremier. However, you won’t be able to enroll in it immediately. You will be given a date when you can return to the site to enroll. Equifax will not send you a reminder to enroll. Mark that date on your calendar, so you can start monitoring your credit as soon as possible.
The FTC also offers more information to protect yourself after a data breach. Learn how to report and recover from identity theft at IdentityTheft.gov.