There are times in your life when it may be necessary to freeze your credit—that is, prevent your credit report from being viewed by lenders and any service providers. This is not something you want to do at any old time, but in such circumstances as identity theft or fraud, according to Experian, because no one can open a new credit account in your name if your credit is frozen.
You’ll need to file a credit freeze request with all three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, for your freeze to actually work. Be prepared to answer questions about your identity before contacting them.
You will be asked to provide key documents to verify your identity when you initiate a credit freeze, including: Social Security number, photo ID and proof of residence (either a rental agreement, utility bill or some other document with your address on it). Be sure to have these on hand and easy to access.
Each credit agency may assign you a PIN or password to access your account, which you’ll also need when you’re ready to lift the freeze, according to Kiplinger. Don’t try to rely upon your memory for these — put them somewhere safe and secure.
The most important reason to set up a credit freeze is to prevent credit fraud in your name — which is when someone opens a credit account in your name without your permission, according to Experian. Yet a freeze is not a foolproof method to prevent fraud. You can still be a victim of identity theft. Examples include: someone using your credit card number to make unauthorized purchases, or someone stealing your Social Security number to file fraudulent tax returns or health insurance claims.
If you simply fear that someone might initiate fraud against you, but it hasn’t happened yet, you don’t need to freeze your credit — setting up fraud alerts will most likely be effective enough, according to the Federal Trade Commission. And this is a good idea regardless of whether you have already experienced fraud.