Freezing Your Credit
A new Pennsylvania law gives consumers an important tool in the battle against identity theft. Beginning January 1, 2007, consumers in Pennsylvania can place a "freeze" on their files maintained by the national credit reporting bureaus.
How does a freeze work?
A freeze prevents credit bureaus from releasing credit information without the consumer's express permission. Businesses typically check credit histories before issuing credit or opening new accounts, so a credit freeze will prevent new credit accounts from being opened in the consumer's name until the freeze is removed. This will help prevent others from trying to get credit in their name and protect the consumer from identity theft. When a freeze is in place with a credit bureau, any changes in a consumer's name, date of birth, Social Security number or address must also be confirmed with the consumer by the credit bureau 30 days before the change is posted to their file.
How does a consumer request a freeze?
Under the new statute, known as the "Credit Reporting Agency Law," consumers can freeze their credit file with a credit bureau by sending a written request to the bureau by certified mail. Each credit bureau must have a toll-free telephone number with information on where to write. Credit bureaus are also permitted, but not required, to establish secure Internet sites through which consumers may request a freeze.
Freezes must be placed on a consumer's file no later than five business days after the request is received. However, where permitted by law, courts, law enforcement agencies, government offices and some other entities can still obtain credit information regardless of whether a freeze is in place.
A fee of up to $10 can be charged by credit bureaus for the freeze, however there is no charge for victims of identity theft or consumers age 65 or older. Security freezes remain in place for seven years, or until the credit bureau receives a request from the consumer to remove the security freeze.
Contact information for major Credit Bureaus:
Mailing addresses for Credit Freeze requests:
(Requests must be sent by Certified Mail)
What if a consumer wants new credit after they've requested a freeze?
The law allows consumers to permanently or temporarily remove a security freeze from their credit files and also allow them to have their credit report released to a specific company. For example, a consumer may want to have their credit history available when refinancing their home or shopping for a car. Credit bureaus can charge consumers up to $10 each time they temporarily remove a security freeze but there is no fee to permanently remove the freeze. It may take up to three business days for a freeze to be removed.
What should consumers keep in mind?
Consumers should carefully consider whether a credit freeze is right for them and, if necessary, plan ahead to arrange to remove the freeze before seeking a loan or new credit. For instance, while a freeze may offer benefits to the consumer, it may hinder or delay common applications, such as requests for cell phone service. Also, because creditors and issuers of credit often use different credit bureaus, consumers may need to place a freeze on their credit file with each of the major credit bureaus. Although these bureaus generally share information reported to them involving fraud or identity theft, they are not required to do so.
Regardless of whether a consumer has chosen to freeze their credit file, there are steps every consumer should take to protect themselves from identity theft. Tips on safeguarding personal and financial information can be found on the Attorney General's website. Consumers are also reminded that they can get free copies of their credit report online.