Don't Stop at Freezing Your Main Three Credit Reports
Freezing your three main credit reports as well as reports at other consumer reporting agencies can keep criminals from opening accounts in your name.
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Freezing your credit reports is a simple step you can take if you're worried about someone stealing your identity and opening accounts in your name. Many people know this is an option with the big three consumer credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. But there are also other consumer reporting agencies that collect and sell information about you, so freezing your reports at these agencies can be important.
Why freeze your credit reports
A credit freeze (or security freeze) limits who can access your reports, which can keep someone else from opening an account in your name.
For example, if someone tries to apply for a new loan or credit card in your name, the creditor will likely try to check your consumer credit report and FICO® Score. If your credit report is frozen, the credit bureau won't release your credit report, and the creditor will likely decline the application.
You can freeze your report with each of the big three credit bureaus for free. You can also create and freeze credit reports for your children who are under 16 years old, which can help protect them from child identity theft.
Which other reports can you freeze?
While many people know about the three nationwide consumer credit bureaus, there are many lesser-known consumer reporting agencies. Similar to the three main credit bureaus, these agencies collect and store information about you and sell this information to other organizations. Many of them have a particular focus, such as tenant screening or utilities.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a list of consumer reporting agencies that it updates each year with information on what each company does, its contact information, whether you can get a free copy of your report and if the company will freeze your report. These agencies that allow you to freeze include:
• ChexSystems, Inc. ChexSystems primarily collects information about checking accounts, such as when you opened an account, if you've bounced checks and why an account was closed. Freezing your report may keep a fraudster from opening a checking or savings account.
• Clarity Services, Inc. Clarity Services focuses on alternative financial services, such as payday loans and rent-to-own agreements. Freezing your report may keep a fraudster from taking out an alternative loan or lease agreement.
• Innovis. While it's not as well-known as the big three, Innovis is another credit reporting agency that creditors generally use to help with identity verification and fraud prevention. Freezing your report can also help keep fraudsters from opening credit accounts.
• National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange. The NCTUE focuses on payment and account history data related to telecommunications, television, and utility accounts. Freezing your report may keep a fraudster from opening a new mobile phone plan or utility account.
• SageStream, LLC. SageStream collects and reports information to auto lenders, credit card issuers, retailers, utility companies and mobile phone carriers. LexisNexis Risk Solutions owns SageStream, and you can request a freeze from their website. Freezing your report may keep a fraudster from opening various types of accounts in your name.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) also applies to these agencies, which means you can request a copy of your report. Although, unlike with the big three, you won't necessarily receive a free report at least once every 12 months. You can review your report and dispute any inaccurate information for free, and the company has to investigate any non-frivolous disputes within 30 to 45 days.
What to know about freezes
While a freeze can help keep someone else from opening a new account in your name, they're not a fool-proof option and there are drawbacks to consider. Here's what else you might want to know:
- Freezing is free. It's free to freeze and unfreeze your reports, and there are often options to do this online, over the phone or by mail.
- You have to go company by company. Unlike with fraud alerts, you have to freeze each of your three credit reports separately. You'll also have to contact each of the other reporting agencies, even if they share a parent company, to freeze your reports.
- You have to thaw your reports before applying. Once you've frozen a report, you'll have to remember to unfreeze (or “thaw”) it before applying for a new account. You can do this for free, and some agencies make it easy to temporarily thaw the report and then automatically freeze it again.
- Freezing doesn't completely lock down your reports. Credit reporting agencies can share frozen reports with creditors and other organizations for various non-lending reasons. These include your current creditors and collection agencies that want to monitor your credit or contact you. Even the big three bureaus can release your reports for employment, tenant screening, background check, insurance, identification, fraud prevention, and marketing purposes.
While a freeze can help protect you if someone steals your identity, it's only one piece of a plan you can use to protect yourself. If your identity is stolen, you should still file an identity theft report and get a recovery plan from the Federal Trade Commission on IdentityTheft.gov. If you have an identity monitoring service, like the ones available from myFICO, you may also have identity theft insurance that can help cover the cost of restoring your identity.
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