Identity theft is an enormous problem that’s only getting worse. In 2021, 42 million U.S. adult victims lost $52 billion to identity fraud—way up from about 17 million victims and nearly $17 billion in total losses during 2017, according to Javelin Research.
One way to fight back is by freezing your credit, to protect yourself from ID theft by preventing unauthorized parties from accessing your credit reports. Freezing your credit can be a meaningful way to guard your credit files.
When to Freeze Your Credit
Freezing your credit may be appropriate in a few situations. If you think your personal information or other sensitive data has been compromised, a credit freeze can prevent fraudsters from opening credit accounts in your name or otherwise tampering with your credit profile.
Freezing your credit also is a smart option if you’re not shopping for a credit card, mortgage or other type of loan. A credit freeze blocks lenders from initiating credit inquiries—which can ding your credit score—without your express authorization.
Aura provides credit monitoring of all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) so you’ll get an alert if they detect any inquiries or changes to your credit file. As an Aura user, you’ll also be alerted if they find your Social Security number being used by someone else or if your identity is used in credit transactions or noncredit situations, like to apply for unemployment benefits.
How to Freeze Your Credit
If Aura identifies a breach, a dedicated case manager will work with you to freeze your credit and otherwise protect your identity and credit profile. White-glove agents will set up three-way calls with you and your financial institutions to protect your accounts from bad actors. Aura will also monitor your accounts for 90 days after resolution to make sure there aren’t any new threats stemming from the breach.
If you opt to go it alone, you can freeze your credit by contacting the three top credit bureaus on your own. You also can freeze your credit with Innovis and the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange (NCTUE), two smaller credit reporting agencies.
Here’s how to contact each credit bureau to freeze your credit:
- Equifax. Request to freeze your Equifax credit report by signing up for or logging into an Equifax account. Then, follow the prompts to verify your identity and confirm the freeze. You can freeze your credit by phone by calling Equifax at 888-298-0045.
- Experian. Access an online Experian account to freeze your credit file, unfreeze or schedule a thaw. You can also request a security freeze by mail, or by calling Experian at 888-397-3742,
- TransUnion. Visit TransUnion online to freeze or unfreeze your credit, manage your security credentials or freeze the credit of a child, deceased relative or other loved one. You can contact a representative by phone at 888-909-8872.
- Innovis. As with the three main credit bureaus, you can request a security freeze on the Innovis website or by calling the bureau at 866-712-4546.
- National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange. To freeze your credit, remove a freeze or lift it temporarily, visit the NCTUE website or call 866-349-5355.
Note: Credit freezes requested over the phone are usually completed in real time but may take up to one business day to process. Freeze requests initiated via conventional mail take up to three business days to take effect.
How to Freeze Your Child’s Credit
About 1 in 50 children became a victim of identity fraud in 2021, Javelin says. That’s 1.25 million kids, up from 1 million in 2017.
If you have a child under age 16, you can freeze their credit by contacting each credit bureau. Be ready to provide a copy of the child’s birth certificate and demonstrate that you are the parent or guardian. Once a freeze is requested, the credit bureau will create a credit profile for the child before freezing it.
You also can request a credit freeze for incapacitated adults, though this process varies by credit bureau. In general, you will need to complete an incapacitated adult freeze request form and provide proof of their identity, proof of your identity and documentation that you are their authorized representative.
Aura family plans include memberships for five children and adults—even those living in different households. The platform also monitors kids’ Social Security numbers and other personal information to identify signs of identity theft.
What You Need to Freeze Your Credit
You’ll need to hustle up a few documents and pieces of information if you plan to freeze your credit. Each credit bureau imposes its own requirements, and the exact documentation you need will vary by whether you freeze your credit online, over the phone or by mail.
Still, a few items are typically required by major credit agencies when freezing your credit:
- Your full name
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
- Address(es) for the last two years
- Proof of address, such as a utility bill
- Copy of driver’s license, passport or other government-issued photo ID
- Copies of utility bills, bank statements, tax documents or other financial records
How to Unfreeze Your Credit
If you’ve done a credit freeze and want to apply for a new line of credit or other financing, you’ll need to unfreeze your credit before starting the process. Depending on your needs, you can lift the freeze indefinitely or for a set period of time. To do that, visit the credit bureau’s website and unfreeze your credit using the password or PIN that was created when you originally froze the report.
If you prefer to unfreeze reports more selectively when applying for credit, ask the lender which credit bureau it will check as part of the application and underwriting process. Or, you could unfreeze all of your credit reports to allow you to shop for the lowest rates without limiting access to your reports.
Credit Freeze vs. Credit Lock
Freezing and locking your credit are both excellent ways to prevent unauthorized parties from accessing your credit file. While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, the processes differ—and one option may be a better fit for your needs.
Freezing your credit is governed by law and offered for free by all credit bureaus. In contrast, a credit lock may come with a fee and does not offer government-backed legal protections. To lock your credit, you’ll have to enroll in a credit lock program with each of the credit bureaus; freezing your credit requires submitting a request with each bureau.
Aura simplifies this process. Its team of U.S.-based agents can help you set up a credit lock and credit monitoring, then a user dashboard will let you instantly lock or unlock your Experian credit file.