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Credit freezes are powerful tools to stop ID thieves from wrecking your credit.
A freeze lets you lock your credit reports so ID thieves can't create accounts using your name and Social Security number.
Freezes don't affect your use of credit cards or impact your credit score. Instead, they give you a "behind the scenes" way to protect yourself from fraud. And best of all, they're free.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How do I freeze my credit reports?
A. For a credit freeze to be effective, you’ll need to freeze your credit reports at all three of the major credit bureaus:
Experian - 1-888-397-3742
Equifax - 1-800-349-9960
TransUnion - 1-888-909-8872
Use a secure computer or device to fill out a request at each credit bureau. Some bureaus refer to a “credit freeze” as a “security freeze.”
Thaws and freezes are free.
Have your Social Security number handy when you contact the bureaus – that’s how bureaus identify your report -- and make sure you have a way to record your PIN.
Keep your PIN in a secure place. You’ll need it when you want to thaw your reports when you apply for credit.
How do I thaw a freeze when I want to apply for credit?
A. When you want to apply for credit, ask the lender which bureau or bureaus they will use to run a credit check and how long they anticipate the credit check will take. Then simply contact those bureaus and use your PIN to briefly thaw your credit reports for the allotted time.
The new law gives credit bureaus a day to thaw a credit report, but most bureaus are used to working with a 15-minute time frame under state freeze laws.
Never reveal your PIN to anyone else. And don’t pay anyone else to manage your freezes and thaws. Under federal law, freezes and thaws are free.
How does a freeze work?
A. Credit freezes prevent lenders from running your credit unless you’ve thawed your credit reports, using your PIN.
So if an ID thief tried to use your stolen personal information to apply for credit, the lender would deny the application because it couldn’t access your credit reports to see how you’ve paid on accounts in the past.
Will a freeze interfere with my ability to use my credit cards or build credit?
A. Not at all. Freezes are set it and forget it. You’ll still be able to use your credit accounts whenever you want without experiencing delays.
Even if you have a freeze, your existing creditors will still be able to access your credit reports and post your payment information to the bureaus. That means you’ll continue to build credit as you make regular on-time monthly payments and pay down debts.
Will a freeze prevent a debt collector from finding me?
A. No. A freeze doesn’t let you hide from creditors. The law allows debt collectors to access your credit report if you owe money. Debt collectors also are permitted to place accurate collection items on your credit reports.
Will a freeze protect me from all types of identity theft?
A. No. Freezes are only effective weapons against new account fraud, the kind where ID thieves try to obtain credit using your name and personal information. A freeze won’t protect you from other types of ID theft, such as tax identity fraud, that don’t involve credit.
But freezes can provide you with piece of mind when your information is involved in a data breach. Locking down your credit gives you one less thing to worry about.
If I have a freeze, will I still need to check my credit reports each year?
A. Yes. Up to a quarter of all credit reports have errors. You’ll want to check your credit reports every year to make sure that your address is current, your payments are properly noted and no inaccurate collections information has been posted to your report.
You have a right to get a free credit from each credit bureau once a year. Make sure you go through the bureaus’ shared official site, annualcreditreport.com, to make sure you are ordering your free report directly from the bureaus.
Do I still need credit monitoring if I have a freeze?
A. Freezes are an alternative to paid credit monitoring services. If your monitoring service primarily checks hits or inquiries on your credit reports, you will not need monitoring once you freeze your reports. The point of a freeze is it lets you control who can see your credit report.
Is a freeze the same as a credit alert?
A. No. Credit freezes actually prevent lenders from checking your credit. Credit alerts warn potential lenders to be careful issuing credit but still allow a lender with an application to view your report. They also expire after a year.
Will a freeze cover both my spouse and I?
A. Even if you’re married and have joint accounts, each of you has an individual credit report. (Lenders report joint loans to both sets of credit reports.) If you both want credit freezes, you’ll each need to freeze your credit reports at all three bureaus. On the upside, if your partner doesn’t want a freeze, it won’t stop you from getting one.
Where can I get more information?
A. Find out more about credit freezes from the Federal Trade Commission.
The Department of Consumer Affairs’ mission is to make sure people who live or shop in Cuyahoga County get what they pay for.