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If you’re looking to keep your credit data from being accessed, the best way to protect it is a credit freeze, also known as a security freeze.
NerdWallet recommends a freeze unless you intend to use your credit in the near future, such as opening a new credit account or applying for a lease or job. In that case, a fraud alert might be more appropriate.
You’ll have to freeze your credit with each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
We outline how to do an Equifax credit freeze:
What is a credit freeze?
A credit freeze makes your credit report off-limits to anyone who does not already have access to it. No one else will be able to check your credit until and unless you lift the freeze. That means if scammers try to misuse your personal data to open a fraudulent credit account, they are unlikely to be approved. However, a freeze will not prevent collection agencies or creditors you already have from seeing your credit information.
A credit freeze does not affect your ability to use the credit accounts you already have. And a freeze has no effect on your credit score.
A credit feeze does not affect your ability to use credit you already have. And a freeze has no effect on your credit score.
In many cases, you’ll have to pay to put a freeze on your files if you are not a victim of identity theft, although some states exempt people over a certain age.
You can monitor your own credit while it’s frozen by getting reports from AnnualCreditReport.com and by setting up a free credit monitoring account. (You can get a free credit score and credit report information, updated weekly, from NerdWallet.)
The fastest freeze: online
The easiest way is via Equifax’s security freeze website. Fill in the requested information, then you will be given a PIN that you will need in order to lift the credit freeze.
Through Jan. 31, Equifax is not charging a fee to place or lift a security freeze. Equifax made those free in response to a data breach that came to light in late 2017 and affected at least 145 million U.S. consumers.
Putting it in writing
If you’d rather set up a security freeze via postal mail, the address is: Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348. Your PIN will be mailed to you.
You’ll need to include your full name, including any suffixes, your address, Social Security number and date of birth. If a fee is required, you should enclose a check, money order, or credit card information including card number, name on the card and expiration date.
Equifax also asks that you include copies of documents that verify your name and address. Acceptable ones include a passport, driver’s license, military ID, tax documents, bank statements, utility bills, etc.
If you are requesting a freeze on behalf of a minor or other protected consumer, you’ll need to provide information for the person whose credit you want to freeze as well as documentation that shows you have the authority to make the request.
Request by phone
You can request an Equifax security freeze by calling 800-685-1111 (except in New York, where the number is 800-349-9960).
You’ll need to give your Social Security number, street address and state of residence. Your PIN will be mailed to you.
Once you request your freeze
You will be issued a 10-digit PIN, and you will need that to unfreeze your credit. You should keep it somewhere safe, and in a place you’ll remember. You’ll need that number if you want to give anyone who doesn’t already have it access to your Equifax credit file.
You will be issued a 10-digit PIN, and you will need that to unfreeze your credit. You should keep it somewhere safe, and in a place you’ll remember.
And while you are saving that PIN, be sure you put the ones from the other two credit bureaus in the same place. If and when you decide you want to unfreeze your credit, you might want to do it for all three bureaus, if you’re not sure which credit bureau will be used for a credit check.