As I walked through the department store, I saw the woman with a clipboard approaching me. From past experience, I knew she would be asking if I wanted to “save an extra 10% on my purchase today.” All I had to do was apply for a credit card. “Sorry,” I responded. “My credit is frozen, and I don’t have my PIN numbers with me."

I made the decision to freeze my credit several years ago, when my personal information was leaked as part of the Anthem breach. After that, it was part of the Equifax breach. And more recently several other smaller breaches. I’m sure it will be again, but at this rate, I assume most of my personal information has already been leaked anyway.

So, I’ve continued to freeze my credit at each of the three major consumer credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to prevent new creditors from accessing my credit reports. I've also frozen it with a fourth credit bureau called Innovis. This in turn makes it more difficult for fraudsters to open new accounts or take out a loan in my name.

How to freeze your credit

Federal law now requires credit bureaus to offer freezes for free, and it’s fairly simple to do. To request that your credit be frozen, simply contact each of the following:

Provide your name, address, birth date and Social Security number. You are then asked a few questions to verify your identity and provided a PIN you can use to unfreeze and refreeze your credit report as needed.

The advantages of freezing your credit

In addition to the obvious advantage of protecting yourself from fraudsters, I have found a few other positive aspects to freezing your credit:

  • More than once, not having my PIN handy has prevented me from opening a credit account that I truly didn’t need. For example, I once forgot my credit is frozen, and I agreed to open an account to “save 10%” on a clothing purchase. Of course, as I stood at the cash register, my application was declined. It was a little embarrassing, but in the end, I was glad that I hadn’t opened another account that I truly didn’t need.
  • Also, telling people “sorry my credit is frozen” (when I do remember) has been a polite way to avoid being bothered when I am shopping – whether for clothes or a new car. 
  • You do have the ability to unfreeze your credit on your own at any time and set a date for the freeze to be put back into place.

The inconveniences of freezing your credit

While I would not call them disadvantages, there are still some reasons that freezing your credit can be a bit of a hassle when you need to have your credit checked:

  • When you want to unfreeze your credit, you will need to unfreeze it at each of the three bureaus. In some instances, you can ask a creditor which one to unfreeze. Or, you can do as I did once, and unfreeze two, only to find the third was the one they tried.
  • Each credit bureau uses a different PIN to enable you to lift a freeze. They are secure PINs that you can’t easily memorize. So you will need to keep them in a secure place and know which PIN goes to each bureau.
  • While I also listed it as an advantage, having to wait until you can unfreeze your credit to have a credit report pulled can be a hassle at times.

Despite the inconveniences, I find the pros of having my credit frozen outweigh the cons. I feel more secure knowing it’s more difficult for fraudsters to open credit cards or other financial accounts in my name. I also believe my chances of being an identity theft victim are reduced, because there is less of an incentive when a thief can’t benefit from taking credit out in my name.

Being a long-time bank employee, I know a credit freeze can’t protect me from all fraud, and that I must take other precautions (like checking my credit report regularly). Still, it helps give me greater peace of mind each time I am notified of a new breach, and I no longer have to avoid eye contact when I see “clipboard lady” approaching me in a store.

More ways to avoid being a victim of fraud

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