Why do they want it? For one thing, so they can see if you have unused credit card accounts. If so, it’s a simple thing for a skilled thief to submit a change of address to that card issuer and begin using your card without your knowledge.
And of course, a thief with your identity can do all the usual things that trigger a credit check. For instance, they can borrow money to buy a car or open a new credit card account in your name; they can rent a house in your name; and they can apply for a job using your good credit.
The benefits of a credit freeze are obvious, so what are the drawbacks? Primarily, you’ll have to plan ahead if you want to use your own credit. Instant credit for an unplanned purchase won’t be possible. Of course, that could be a good thing for consumers who are trying to cut down on impulse buying.
It can also become expensive if you freeze and thaw regularly.
At present, each bureau charges $10 each time you freeze or thaw your credit report, but consumer advocates are working to reduce that fee. Ed Mierwinski, of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group is calling for a one-time fee of $5 or less, saying that this should be like a security lock on your house. You buy it once and use it without further cost.
If you have already become a victim of identity theft, the fee is waived.
Freezing your credit report prevents all that, and since last November, it is an option available to consumers from all 3 of the major credit bureaus. Each bureau has different systems for freezing a credit report. Equifax and TransUnion require a written request, but consumers can place a freeze with Experian by going on line.
To thaw your report at Experian you can call, write, or go on line, while Equifax provides a toll-free number and TransUnion will accept a temporary thaw by phone or mail, but a permanent thaw must be requested in writing.
A credit freeze should not be confused with a fraud alert, which can be placed on your credit report files at no charge, but only lasts for 90 days. This is a safety feature for those who have lost a wallet or who otherwise fear that their identity has been compromised.