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Combat identity theft with a credit freeze

A credit freeze (also known as a security freeze) can be a great weapon against identity theft. It lets you restrict access to your credit report, tripping up con artists who try to open accounts in your name. Lenders won't extend credit if they can't check someone's payment history.

If you suspect a crook is attempting to gain unauthorized access to your credit report, a credit freeze is a good first step.

How does a credit freeze work?

Contact each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies. You'll need to provide information in writing, including your:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • And other identifying information

Expect to pay a fee to each reporting agency typically ranging from $5 to $10, unless you're over age 65 or can prove via a police report that you're a victim of identity theft. Also be aware that freezing your credit report will not automatically freeze your spouse's report. You'll have to do this for each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. One credit agency is not obligated to inform the other two about the request.

Placing a freeze on your credit report doesn't affect your credit score or prevent you from ordering copies of your report. A credit freeze will typically last until you remove it, either permanently or temporarily with a designated PIN or password.

Credit freezes are not foolproof

Government agencies, such as taxing authorities, still have access to your credit report. It also may be released in response to court orders, subpoenas or search warrants. And collection services and current creditors will still be able to get the information they need to contact people. In other words, a credit freeze won't shut out legitimate debt collectors.

If you're planning to apply for a job, take out a mortgage, switch utility providers or shop for insurance, find out which credit reporting agency each business typically uses. That way you can remove the specific credit freeze needed while still roadblocking other credit reporting avenues from identity thieves.

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