If your personal info has been hacked, one of the best ways to prevent crooks from opening new accounts in your name is by initiating a security freeze. But you may be wondering about the effect a freeze will have on your good credit score.
Thankfully, freezing your credit will not affect your credit history or score. However, keep in mind that your credit records are not available while they’re frozen. If you want to open a new account, refinance a mortgage or otherwise need access to your credit, you’ll have to have the freeze temporarily lifted, which involves paying fees to the credit bureaus.
Why get a security freeze?
Freezing your credit reduces the chance that thieves will be able to open credit and false new accounts in your name. If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you may consider a security freeze to prevent a crook from using your personal info to open up new accounts, like credit cards or loans, or compromise current accounts, like your checking or savings.
You can do this by instructing the three major credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and Transunion — to freeze your credit, which prevents third parties from gaining access to your credit file without your permission. Fees for freezing your credit range between $2 to $15 per bureau and depend on your state’s laws, according to Consumer Reports.
Filing requirements also vary by each state. You can get an overview of each state’s laws and requirements at ConsumersUnion.org.
What if your credit card information has been stolen?
If your card has been stolen, it’s important to act fast: Federal law limits your liability for unauthorized charges to $50, and many credit card issuers offer zero liability. (Debit cards, however, are another story.)
If someone makes unauthorized charges to your credit card, but it’s not lost, you won’t be liable for the transactions if you report them within 60 days of receiving your statement.
Contact your credit card company to report a theft immediately. You’ll have to tell them your account information, when your card was lost or compromised and the amount that was lost. You can also put a free fraud alert on your credit report at one of the credit bureaus, which will last 90 days (and is renewable) and will make it harder for thieves to open more accounts in your name.
Fraud alerts are more of a cautionary note than a full-blown credit freeze, so they’re likely a better idea for someone who has lost a wallet or credit card and is worried about possible identity theft. A credit freeze is a more serious action that’s likely better for someone who knows his or her information has been stolen in a security breach.
A credit freeze can be a great security measure that protects you against fraudsters and doesn’t mar your good credit score. Just make sure to keep a close eye on your credit reports, monitoring them for any suspicious activity and ensuring your record is as accurate and clean as possible.
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