On February 10, 2020, four Chinese military members got charged due to their involvement in the Equifax hack that happened back in mid-2017. This incident had impacted an estimated 150 million people in the U.S. and led to the theft of such sensitive details as Social Security numbers, addresses and driver's license numbers. If you were notified that your information got breached or just feel concerned about the safety of your personal information, consider adding a free credit freeze to your Equifax report along with others to limit the risk of fraudsters signing up for new accounts in your name.
Why You Need a Freeze
When the incident happened, Equifax reported that they didn't think the criminals used the information to alter credit reports. However, they warned that the Equifax breach could still put Americans at risk for identity theft where criminals might open credit accounts in their names, among other issues. Those impacted by the hack received notification via a letter and could file a claim to get a free credit reporting service or potential monetary compensation for losses.
However, without putting a freeze on your credit report through Equifax, along with TransUnion and Experian, you'd still be at risk. Adding a credit freeze to your reports is a simple process you can do on each bureau's website, by phone or through the mail. The process won't hurt your credit score, and you can always lift the freeze, either temporarily or permanently, when you need to open up a new account.
However, do know that a credit freeze won't stop anybody who already has access to your current accounts. In that case, you'll still need to report the suspected identity theft immediately to your creditors, law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission.
Read More: How to Report Attempted Identity Theft
Requesting an Experian Credit Freeze
Adding a credit freeze to your Experian credit report is straightforward and doesn't even require making an account on the bureau's website. The process involves the following steps:
- Visit the Experian "Security Freeze" page.
- Select "Add a security freeze" and locate the option for "Freeze my own credit file."
- Fill in the personal information requested and choose a PIN that you can use to lift the freeze later.
- Click "Submit" to add the freeze.
While you'll probably find this online method most convenient, Experian provides a few other ways to get a credit freeze. Calling 1-888-397-3742 will give you an automated phone system that allows you to verify your identity using your Social Security number and place the freeze. If you'd prefer to use the mail, send a request letter along with identifying documents to this address: Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
Getting an Equifax Credit Freeze
Equifax has you create an online account where you can add and lift the credit freeze as needed. The process to request your credit freeze involves the following:
- Visit the Equifax "Security Freeze" page.
- Select the button that says "Get Started With a Freeze."
- Follow the three-step signup process that requires entering your personal information, setting up the account credentials and secret questions, and verifying your identity through a text message or financial questions.
- Click "Continue" after the account setup notice appears to proceed to the portal.
- Click the "Place a Freeze" button to begin the freeze request process.
- Select the option that you want to place a security freeze, verify that you accept the terms and conditions and click "Next."
- Click "Submit" on the confirmation page to add the freeze.
If you'd prefer to add the freeze by phone, call 1-800-349-9960 and follow the system's steps to confirm your identity and request a credit freeze. Equifax also offers a freeze request form that you can print out and complete. Mail it along with the requested documentation to the following location: Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348-5788.
Adding a TransUnion Credit Freeze
Like Equifax, TransUnion requires that you have an account to add or manage credit freezes. You'll follow these steps:
- Visit TransUnion's "Credit Freeze" page.
- Click the "Add Freeze" button.
- Follow the three-step process to create a TransUnion account. You'll start with basic personal information, continue with your account credentials and security questions and then answer a few verification questions.
- After creating the account, click "Continue" to proceed.
- Click "Add Freeze" and then create your PIN.
- Click "Continue" to apply the freeze.
Alternatively, call TransUnion at 1-888-909-8872 to request a freeze after you confirm who you are. You can also mail a request letter with identification to TransUnion, P.O. Box 160, Woodlyn, PA 19094.
Unfreezing Your Credit Reports
When applying for credit, you'll need to unfreeze your credit reports so that the lender can run a credit check and get the information needed to approve you. You can quickly do this through the TransUnion and Equifax portals where you added the freeze as well as through the Experian "Security Freeze" page. You can also call each bureau's customer service number to manage the freeze. Except for Equifax, you'll need to have your PIN for each service handy to unlock your credit reports, so keep them in a safe place.
The bureaus will give you options to make the freeze lift either temporary or permanent. For the most security, you can use a temporary freeze just to give your creditor time to approve your application; this will let you set effective start and end dates. A permanent unfreeze puts you at the most risk and will require a new credit freeze request when you want to improve your security again.
By adding a credit freeze to each bureau's report, you can have some more peace of mind. For the most security, remember to still follow good practices such as checking your credit reports regularly, watching your transactions and avoiding sharing financial information with unauthorized individuals.
- Experian: Security Freeze
- TransUnion: Credit Freeze
- CNN: US Charges 4 Members of Chinese Military With Equifax Hack
- Federal Trade Commission: Credit Freeze FAQs
- Equifax: Equifax Consumer Services Center
- Experian: How to Add a Security Freeze to Your Credit File
- Equifax: Fraud Alert, Security Freeze, and Credit Report Lock
- Equifax: Freeze Request Form
- CSO: Equifax Data Breach FAQ: What Happened, Who Was Affected, What Was the Impact?
- NBC News: 4 Chinese Military Hackers Charged With Massive 2017 Equifax Breach
- Lifelock: Equifax Data Breach Affects Millions of Consumers. Here’s What to Do.
- Federal Trade Commission: Equifax Data Breach Settlement
- Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information. "Free Credit Freezes Are Here," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.
- TransUnion. "Freeze Support Center," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.
- Experian. "Sending Us Your Information," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.
- Equifax. "Freezing Your Child's Credit Report: FAQ," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.
- Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information. "Place a Fraud Alert," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.
- Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information. "Extended Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.
- Equifax. "Your Equifax Credit Report — You're in Charge," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.
- Experian. "CreditLock," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.
- TransUnion. "Credit Lock," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.
- Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information. "Credit Freeze FAQs," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.
Ashley Donohoe has written about business and technology topics since 2010. Having a Master of Business Administration degree, bookkeeping certification and experience running a small business and doing tax returns, she is knowledgeable about the tax issues individuals and businesses face. Other places featuring her business writing include Zacks, JobHero, LoveToKnow, Bizfluent, Chron and Study.com.