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Deter Identity Theft With a Credit Freeze

It’s easy, free and helps stop scammers from opening accounts in your name

Credit card in frozen block of ice

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En español | Placing a freeze on your credit data is one of the most effective ways to prevent identity thieves from using your info to steal, and under federal law it's absolutely free. A freeze restricts access to your credit file, making it harder for scammers to open new accounts in your name.

You'll need to set up the freeze with all three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can do this at the bureaus' websites (links below); expect it to take 10 minutes of computer time per freeze. (You can also do it over the phone, but it’ll take longer.)

Keep in mind that a freeze also prevents you from opening new accounts. If you are applying for a loan or a credit card, you'll need to temporarily lift the freeze so prospective lenders can check your credit history. You can use the credit bureaus' sites to set start and end dates for a credit "thaw."

Step 1: Gather Social Security numbers, birth dates and past addresses for each adult whose credit you want to freeze. Be familiar with recent borrowing. (You may be asked, for instance, about your mortgage balance.)

Step 3: On your own computer at home, go to the website of one of the credit bureaus. If you’re asked to create an account, write down your username and password.

Step 5: You’ll receive, or be asked to create, a personal ID number. Add it to your folder, along with the account-holder name, username and password. You’ll need all this to unfreeze your account.

Step 2: Grab a physical file folder and label it something like “Credit Bureau Security Freeze.” You will need to store important information in this folder in case you ever want to unfreeze your credit.

Step 4: To verify your identity, the credit bureau will ask for your past and present addresses (and maybe other personal info). Then you can request your freeze.

Step 6: Repeat for the next adult in your household. Then proceed the same way with the other two credit bureaus. When done, put your folder in a secure place. (Mine is in a safe.)

Where to freeze your credit

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of AARP The Magazine. It has been updated to reflect more recent information on credit freezes.