In this article:
Identity theft and fraud protection for your finances, personal info, and devices.
Can a Credit Freeze Protect Your Identity?
When Larry received a bill for $349 for virus protection software he hadn’t signed up for, he quickly contacted the company to cancel the service [*]. But he got suspicious when the person he was speaking with got him to download software that gave them access to his computer to “help” with the refund.
Luckily, Larry shut his computer down and contacted his bank before the scammers could do any real damage — but not everyone is so lucky.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans lost $6.1 billion to fraud last year alone [*]. A huge portion of those losses came from fraudsters opening new accounts or taking out loans in their victims’ names — something a credit freeze could help protect you from.
But while many experts tout the benefits of a credit freeze, they’re not the only tool you can use for protecting your financial accounts from fraudsters.
In this guide, we’ll explain when to know if you should freeze your credit, what happens when you do, and what other options are available for staying safe.
What Is a Credit Freeze? What Happens When You Freeze Your Credit?
A credit freeze — also known as a security freeze — restricts access to your credit report until you “thaw” it or remove the freeze.
How does freezing your credit help protect you against fraud?
Most creditors need to see your credit report before lending to you or opening accounts in your name. A credit freeze can make it more difficult for identity thieves to commit credit fraud and open new credit accounts in your name, as potential creditors can’t verify your credit score.
A credit freeze request can be used proactively to secure your credit against scammers — such as if you think you’re at risk of identity theft or you want to freeze your child’s credit until they’re older. Or, they can be used to secure your accounts after you’ve been the victim of identity theft.
💡 Related: Credit Lock vs. Credit Freeze — Which Do You Need? →
Will a Credit Freeze Hurt My Credit? Does It Have Any Downsides?
No. Requesting a credit freeze will not affect your credit score or prevent you from getting a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. However, this doesn’t mean that your credit score is frozen until you thaw it.
Here’s what won’t change if you freeze your credit:
- You’ll still be able to use credit monitoring services like Identity Guard to monitor for signs of fraud. A credit freeze doesn’t stop scammers from making changes on existing accounts. So you still need protection and monitoring to stay safe.
- You’ll still receive prescreened credit offers. A freeze won’t stop you from receiving offers for new credit. You’ll need to opt out of those individually.
- Your credit score will still change based on your credit card statements and payment history.
- You’ll still be able to use all of your current credit accounts and make loan or credit card payments. Your current creditors will continue to report back to the credit reporting agencies and impact your overall score.
The only difference is that any new creditors and credit card companies who try to run a credit check will be turned away.
When Should You Freeze Your Credit?
You can freeze your credit at any time. But it’s most common to ask for a freeze if:
- Your identity has been stolen. Scammers are almost always financially motivated. If your identity has been stolen, there’s a good chance they’ll try to open fraudulent accounts or take out new credit cards in your name. Even worse, almost 30% of identity theft victims have been targeted multiple times [*].
- You gave personal or financial information to a scammer. Even if you don’t see any of the warning signs of identity theft, scammers may have gotten your personal information through a phishing attack. If you think you’ve been scammed, you probably have. Be safe and freeze your credit.
- You want to freeze your child’s credit. Children are prime targets for identity thieves who use their clean credit histories to run scams. You can freeze your child’s credit until they’re old enough to need it themselves. Learn more about child identity theft →
- You’re going to be out of the country for an extended period of time (such as for military personnel). If you won’t be able to check your credit, you could be at risk. The credit bureaus offer special protection for service members in the form of an Active Duty Alerts.
- You want to protect an elderly family member — such as a parent or grandparent. Senior citizens are huge targets for scammers as they’re often more trusting and less likely to monitor their credit. It’s a good idea to suggest that any senior family members freeze their credit to stay safe.
- Your personal information is available to scammers on the Dark Web. There’s a good chance that your sensitive information — including your SSN, phone number, and credit card — have been leaked in a recent data breach. Scammers can use this information to ruin your credit or steal your identity.
Do this now! Check if your personal information was leaked in a data breach using Identity Guard’s free Dark Web scanner:
💡 Related: What Is a Dark Web Scanner? How To Use One →
How To Place a Freeze With All Three Credit Bureaus
To place a credit freeze you’ll need to call each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — individually.
When you make the request, you'll need to provide your:
- Date of birth
- Address history
- Social Security number (SSN)
A credit freeze lasts indefinitely — or until you "thaw" your account. After your credit freeze is approved, you'll receive a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that you can use to freeze and unfreeze your account.
If you need to apply for new credit — such as an auto loan, mortgage, or store credit card — you can request a temporary lift. By federal law, the bureaus are required to lift the freeze within one hour of your request (and within three business days if you request the lift by mail).
Here’s how to contact each credit bureau to place a credit freeze:
How to freeze your Experian credit report
Online: Sign up online to freeze and unfreeze your credit.
By phone: 1-888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)
Submit a written request, including your full name, SSN, complete address from the past two years, date of birth, and copies of your government issued ID and a recent utility bill or bank statement.
Send the request to:
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
How to freeze your Equifax credit report
Online: Sign up online to freeze and unfreeze your Equifax credit report.
By phone: 1-888 298-0045
By mail: Send your request to P.O. Box 740256 Atlanta, GA 30374
How to freeze your TransUnion credit report
Online: Sign up online to freeze and unfreeze your TransUnion credit report.
By phone: 1-888-909-8872
By mail: Send your request to P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016
How do you unfreeze your credit accounts?
When you request a credit freeze, you’ll be given a special PIN to use on your account. To lift the freeze, contact each credit bureau (or use their online portals) and then use your PIN to lift the freeze.
You’ll need to contact each of the three credit bureaus individually to freeze and unfreeze your credit.
Credit Freeze vs. Credit Lock, Fraud Alerts, and Credit Monitoring
Credit freezes aren’t your only option when it comes to protecting yourself from fraudsters.
Here are the other main options and when you should choose them over a credit freeze.
Credit freeze vs. Fraud alert
What’s the difference?
A fraud alert is a less extreme way to alert lenders that you could be at risk of fraud. With a fraud alert, credit issuers are told to take extra steps to verify your identity before extending new loans or lines of credit.
Fraud alerts are free and last up to one year (unless you remove them earlier).
When should you choose a fraud alert over a credit freeze?
If you suspect identity fraud, you can place a fraud alert to potentially stop scammers from accessing your credit.
If your identity has been stolen, you can request an extended fraud alert that lasts up to seven years.
Anything else you should know?
You only have to inform one credit bureau of the fraud alert. By law, the one you contact must inform the others so they can place an alert on your file.
You can also request a free copy of your credit report from each credit bureau when you place a fraud alert on your file.
💡 Go deeper: What Is a Fraud Alert & How Does It Work? →
Credit freeze vs. Credit lock
What’s the difference?
A credit lock acts similarly to a credit freeze in that it stops anyone — even yourself — from accessing your credit history. However, credit locks are only available through apps or online tools provided by the credit bureaus. These can get expensive. For example, Experian’s “CreditLock” costs $24.99/month [*].
When should you choose a credit lock over a credit freeze?
Credit locks are all about speed and convenience. Rather than contact each credit bureau and go through a lengthy process, you can quickly lock and unlock your credit file directly from an app.
Anything else you should know?
Credit locks are available through some identity theft protection tools, such as Identity Guard. For less than the price of Experian’s CreditLock, you get one-click credit lock along with three-bureau credit monitoring, award-winning identity theft protection, and a suite of online safety tools.
Learn more about Identity Guard and pick the plan that’s right for you →
Credit freeze vs. Credit monitoring
What’s the difference?
Credit monitoring offers ongoing protection against potential fraud without limiting your access to your credit file.
A three-bureau credit monitoring service like Identity Guard constantly monitors your credit reports and informs you of any changes. This way, you can quickly catch any fraudulent activity.
When should you choose credit monitoring over a credit freeze?
Credit monitoring keeps you safe without getting in the way of your financial needs. You can continue to open new accounts and take out new lines of credit with the peace of mind knowing that your accounts are being monitored.
Anything else you should know?
Unlike some other credit monitoring services, Identity Guard has a direct connection to the credit bureaus. That means that you’ll know in near real-time if scammers are targeting your account.
Is a Credit Freeze Enough To Protect Your Identity?
Here’s the bottom line: A credit freeze is a good security measure if you think (or know) you’ve been the victim of identity fraud. But it won’t protect you from other types of identity theft and can’t stop scammers from abusing your current accounts or credit cards.
Not every lender pulls your credit history before issuing new lines of credit, meaning scammers can still take out loans and rack up debt in your name.
Credit freezes can also take a lot of time. To place a credit freeze on your credit report, you’ll have to call all three of the credit bureaus individually. You’ll also have to contact all three whenever you need to temporarily lift a credit freeze for whatever reason. Lead times for credit freeze lifts vary by agency but could be anywhere from an hour to a couple of days.
Finally, a credit freeze doesn't protect you against medical identity theft, criminal identity theft, credit card fraud, account takeovers, and the many other ways that fraudsters use your stolen identity.
The Final Verdict: Choose a More Secure Option
You work hard. And when it comes to your personal finances, you want to choose the most secure option possible.
A credit freeze doesn’t provide the level of protection that an identity theft protection service can. Help protect your identity with Identity Guard.
With Identity Guard, you get:
- #1-rated identity theft protection. Identity Guard constantly scans databases, websites, and the Dark Web for signs that scammers are using your personal information for illegal gains. Identity Guard monitors your name, Social Security number (SSN), driver's license, and more.
- Credit monitoring with fraud alerts. Sleep safely knowing your credit cards, financial accounts, credit file, and investment accounts are being monitored for signs of fraud.
- 24/7/365 U.S.-based fraud resolution agents. No one should go through the nightmare of fraud and identity theft alone. As an Identity Guard member, you'll always have access to a highly skilled team of fraud remediation agents.
- $1,000,000 insurance policy. If the worst should happen, you're covered for up to $1 million in eligible losses due to identity theft.