Should You Choose a Credit Freeze?
By: R. Kurtz (Kurt) Holloway and Elizabeth Lester, project intern and contributing author
This is article 7 of a series of articles to help victims of identity theft. The previous article 6 explained the use of an initial or extended credit alert on your credit report to protect your account from future theft.
This article presents an alternative option to a credit alert, a credit freeze. A credit freeze actually restricts creditors’ access to your credit report all together by blocking any future applications for credit or new accounts which you have not authorized.
1. A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report by potential new creditors or other third parties unless you grant them access.
2. You place a freeze by sending a written request by certified mail, return receipt requested to each of the credit reporting agencies (CRAs). You will need to send your request to all 3 CRAs to be completely effective.
3. Unlike a credit alert which is a federal right, access to a credit freeze is dependent upon state laws. Pennsylvania does allow consumers to request a credit freeze.
4. Like the fraud alerts, a credit freeze should not affect your credit score.
5. Unlike fraud alerts which are free, a credit freeze does typically have a cost ($10.70 for each request in Pennsylvania). However, in Pennsylvania if you are over 65 years of age or have a valid police report demonstrating that you are a victim of identity theft, then the fee is waived.
6. You will still have access to your annual free credit report even when a freeze is in place.
7. All of your current accounts, such as banks or credit card companies, as well as non-creditors such as employers and landlords, will continue to have access to your credit report. In addition to current creditors, prescreened solicitations of credit offers will still be permitted to contact you.
8. The credit freeze solely applies to blocking applications for future credit.
9. It is possible to lift the credit freeze temporarily or permanently to allow credit checks for valid applications for credit which you have filed. To lift a freeze you must pay $10.70 in PA., unless you are exempt as discussed above. This lift will only need to be with one of the CRAs, but it can usually take a few days which limits your availability for any credit offers with a time constraint.
10. A credit freeze lasts for 7 years in Pennsylvania unless you remove it sooner.
11. It is important to remember that both fraud alerts, whether initial or extended, and credit freezes do not protect you from identity theft with any existing accounts or cards. They also do not prevent new accounts which do not require a credit check from being opened under your name.
The next article in the series will cover what obligations CRAs have to protect your identity.
You will find more detailed information about resolving your identity theft situation at the FTC website, www.ftc.gov. An experienced and knowledgeable consumer law attorney can also guide you through the process, help you assert your rights and restore your financial reputation. Contact one of our consumer law attorneys for help at 610-323-7464.