Identity thieves aren't going to open any accounts in your name, because you applied either a credit freeze or a credit lock to your account with all three of the major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). Lenders can't access your credit report, and therefore, they won't issue credit in your name.
If you want to open a legitimate credit account, you'll have to remove the barrier (permanently unfreeze your credit, temporarily thaw a credit freeze, or unlock a credit lock). How do you remove and reapply your credit protection in the most efficient way possible?
The key is to keep the fewest number of accounts open for the shortest time possible. You'll decrease the odds of criminals opening a fraudulent account in your name – especially if they've tried and failed before. They'll move on to easier targets.
Credit freezes and credit locks both prevent lenders from accessing your accounts, but there are a few important differences. Credit reporting agencies are required by law to offer credit freezes, and freezes have regulatory protections in case the freeze fails. Thanks to recent legislation, each freeze, unfreeze, and thaw is now free of charge. Credit locks are contractual services offered by each of the agencies, only providing the level of protection written into the contract. Some credit locks come with additional services as a package deal for a fee.
The tradeoff is the increased security of a credit freeze versus the convenience of a credit lock, which is designed to be instantly removable via mobile apps – but it's important to check for recent changes. Credit thaws and unfreezes can now be accomplished in a matter of minutes.
As directed by recent regulatory actions, all three credit reporting agencies have a website that allows you to apply and remove a credit freeze. You can also apply and remove freezes by phone or by mail – and you may have to do so by mail if you've forgotten a PIN number associated with your freeze account.
All three agencies offer a temporary credit thaw or a permanent credit unfreeze. It's best to select the temporary credit thaw and choose the minimum time needed for a lender to review your report. You can permanently unfreeze your credit and apply a new freeze later – but you'll have to remember to re-apply the freeze. With a temporary thaw, you can set the time frame and the freeze will re-apply automatically.
Each agency will issue a PIN with your credit freeze. You'll need the PIN for most freeze and thaw applications – although PINs are not always required with online freeze, unfreeze and thaw transactions. Keep all PINs in a safe place. If you lose the PIN, you lose the immediacy of the credit thaw or unfreeze.
Credit lock/unlocks are effectively instantaneous through the mobile app of each agency – but you must remember to reapply the lock once your legitimate application for credit is approved. You can also apply and remove credit locks online, but each agency's locking site is separate from the freeze website.
If you happen to know that a lender only uses information from one of the credit reporting agencies, you can thaw/unlock that single report. Lenders may not be willing to divulge that information – but if they are, you can minimize threats by only thawing/unlocking one account.
Whether you choose a credit freeze or a credit lock, make sure you fully understand how to remove and re-apply your protection. Keep your credit open for as little time as possible – and make sure you keep track of any PINs that your service requires.
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