One of the most effective tools available to U.S. consumers for protecting their credit from identity thieves is now free, thanks to a federal law that took effect Friday.
Consumers can now freeze and unfreeze their credit at the three major credit bureaus without being charged. Prior to the law taking effect, it cost consumers in almost half the states $3 to $12 per bureau to freeze or unfreeze their credit reports.
A freeze prevents lenders from accessing a person’s credit report – which is necessary for getting a loan or new credit card. This essentially prevents thieves from opening a new account in that person’s name or the name of someone in their family.
The new law following last year’s disclosure from Equifax, one of the three credit reporting agencies, that a major data breach exposed the personal information of 148 million Americans and prompted lawmakers to take action.
According to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the federal law requiring free security freezes “does not apply to someone who requests your credit report for employment, tenant-screening, or insurance purposes.” Other credit reporting companies, for example, employment or companies that are known for screening tenants on behalf of landlords, might charge a fee to place and lift a security freeze based on your state laws, the CFPB states.
You can place a freeze on your credit file at any time, but you must contact each credit reporting company. For more information, visit the nationwide credit reporting companies’ websites or call the numbers below:
Here are more important details on credit freezes from the CFPB:
Security Freeze Notice and Timing
- A nationwide credit reporting company must place a security freeze within 1 business day of your request if made by telephone or secure electronic means. If the request is made by mail, the security freeze must be placed no later than 3 business days after receiving the request.
- A nationwide credit reporting company must send you a written confirmation of the security freeze no later than 5 business days after the security freeze is placed. They must also tell you of how to remove the security freeze.
- The nationwide consumer reporting company’s webpage must also allow you to request a security freeze, an initial fraud alert, an extended fraud alert, and an active duty fraud alert.
Temporary Lift of Security Freeze
Upon your request, the security freeze can be removed free of charge. The security freeze will be removed no later than:
- 1 hour after receiving the request by toll-free telephone or secure electronic means;
- 3 business days after receiving the request by mail;
- You also have the option to lift the freeze temporarily for a period of time specified by you, free of charge. The same time periods above apply to a temporary removal of your security freeze.