Help Desk FAQ

Credit Reports and Scores

Credit Reporting

 

What’s the difference between a fraud alert and a security freeze?

Both a fraud alert and a credit freeze are tools used to prevent identity theft.

A fraud alert makes it more difficult for someone to open new credit in your name by requiring lenders to take extra precautions to verify your identity. Anyone can place a year-long initial fraud alert, at no charge, which can be renewed. Contact one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax/800-685-1111; Experian/888-397-3742; or TransUnion/888-909-8872), which will notify the others. You’re entitled to one additional free copy of your credit report from each agency in addition to your free copy each 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Identity theft and fraud victims have the option to place an extended fraud alert, which stays on file for seven years. 

A security freeze (or "credit freeze") provides even greater protection than a fraud alert by "locking" your credit reports. When you freeze your credit reports with all three credit reporting agencies, they become inaccessible unless you unfreeze them using a password or PIN (personal identification number). If a creditor cannot access your credit report or score when it receives an application for credit, it will reject the request. This keeps identity thieves from opening new credit in your name.

As of Sept. 21, 2018, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free. You also can get a free freeze for your children who are under 16. And if you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can get a free freeze for that person, too. Whether you request a freeze online or by phone, the credit bureau must freeze your credit file within one business day. A request to lift the freeze, whether done by phone or online, must be fulfilled within one hour. Mailed requests to place or lift a freeze can take up to three business days.

While a security freeze provides strong protection against identity theft, your reports being inaccessible to anyone who uses credit reports and scores in their decision-making process—that includes insurance companies, landlords, employers doing a background check (in states where it is allowed), cell phone companies and utilities—can be inconvenient. Weigh the advantages (high level of security) and disadvantages (potential inconvenience) of a security freeze and choose whichever option—freeze or fraud alert—best meets your needs.

Neither an alert nor a freeze can prevent fraud involving your existing accounts.

Learn more about freezing your credit file by reading our Freeze Your Credit File publication.

 

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