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Security Freeze vs Fraud Alert

October 15, 2007

Identity theft has finally started getting the attention it’s been begging for. As people become more aware of this crime, they’ve brought pressure on politicians and the credit reporting agencies to make changes. In the past, every state had their own laws regulating security freezes. On November 1, 2007, everyone can put a security freeze on their credit report.

What’s the difference between a security freeze and a fraud alert?

A security freeze completely shuts off anyone from opening new credit in your name – even you. The freeze makes it impossible for anyone to access your credit report. It stays in place until you remove it. You have to freeze your credit with all three credit reporting agencies at a cost of $10 each. To get the freeze temporarily removed, it’s another $10 each. If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you can get a credit freeze for no charge. The fees vary by state, but $10 is the most common.

A fraud alert allows you to take out new credit or to let someone check your credit. The way it provides protection for you is this – you will receive a confirmation phone call at the number you gave before a new credit account can be opened. A fraud alert lasts for 90 days. To keep one in place, you’ll need to renew it quarterly. The cost for this is nothing – it’s free.

How to freeze  your credit report

  • Send a letter to each credit reporting agency  requesting the freeze – preferrably a certified letter
  • Include your name, address, Social Security Number.
  • Include a check or provide a credit card number and expiration date to pay for the fees.
  • Provide proof of residence such as your driver’s license, student ID card, utility bill, etc.
  • You’ll receive a PIN number – keep that safe and somewhere where you can find it later
  • To remove or thaw the freeze,  write to all three credit reporting agencies requesting the freeze be removed. You’ll need your PIN for this.
  • It can take three business days or more after receipt of your letter for the freeze to be removed. If you lost your PIN, it can take even longer.

 Because it can take a while to freeze and unfreeze your credit, it’s best to use this if you know you won’t be applying for any new credit, getting a new job or moving in the near future.

How to place a fraud alert

Placing a fraud alert is considerably easier than a freeze. All you have to do is call one of the credit reporting agencies and request a fraud alert be placed on your file. Whichever credit agency you call will notify the other two agencies so that they can update you in their files.

  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
  • Experian: 1-888-397-3742
  • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

A fraud alert will prevent you from getting instant credit which is usually offered at stores. An offer for instant credit usually sounds like this, "If you sign up for our Visa card today, you’ll get 10% off your purchases." Instant credit is an identity thief’s favorite kind.

The method you choose to protect yourself depends on your circumstances at the moment. Either one works well. Neither of them will have any effect on your credit score.

Comments

34 Responses to “Security Freeze vs Fraud Alert”

  1. neal on December 5th, 2007 9:54 pm

    i received a letter from ccf investments, inc., stating that they had a back up disk stolen from them, containg names, addresses, social security numbers, and other account information. to protect myself, i’m supposed to notify you and the federal trade commission, which i have done. please, notify the other credit reporting agencies and myself as soon as possible.

  2. John on June 6th, 2008 11:41 pm

    Why do the credit bureaus make it almost if not completely impossible to remove a security freeze once some poor soul like myself has forgotten and/or misplaced his PIN’s? I can find no number to call to speak to a human to solve this issue. How can our government permit such shoddy service when it is the one who mandated these laws for the protection of its citizens?

  3. The Identity 'Protector' on June 7th, 2008 12:38 pm

    John, I feel your frustration on this. Credit bureaus have a bit of a monopoly on our credit lives and tend to play by the rules that suit them best. Customer service isn’t one of their strong suits. (to put it mildly)

    Did you try this page on Experian’s site – It has a link to request your PIN reminder.

    —————————

    Here’s how Equifax says you need to do it:

    How do I permanently remove a state law or Equifax voluntary security freeze on my Equifax credit file?

    To permanently remove your state law security freeze from your Equifax credit file you must write to us at the address below and include the following information:

    1. Name, address, date of birth and Social security number
    2. Your 10 digit security freeze confirmation number
    3. 2 pieces of ID verification, such as a copy of your drivers license and copy of Social Verification. ie: Paystub, W2, or Copy of SSN Card
    4. Your letter should clearly state that you wish to permanently remove your security freeze from your Equifax credit file.
    5. Payment of applicable fees to temporarily lift your freeze.  We accept checks, American Express, Mastercard, VISA and Discover cards for payment. If you are paying by credit card, please include the following information:
      1. Name of the person as it appears on the credit card
      2. Type of credit card (American Express, Mastercard, VISA, or Discover Card)
      3. Complete account number
      4. Expiration data (month and year)
      5. For American Express – 4 digit Card Identification Number (on front of card above the account number)
      6. For Mastercard, VISA, or Discover Card – 3 digit Card Identification Number (on back of card at the end of the account number) Please do not send cash through the mail.

    To permanently remove the security freeze on your Equifax credit file please send the information above to the address below.

    Equifax Security Freeze
    P.O. Box 105788
    Atlanta, Georgia 30348

    ——————————-

    TransUnion says this:

    If you lose the PIN that was issued to you when you added the Security Freeze to your credit file, you may request a new one in writing. Please provide proof of identification, such as a copy of your driver’s license, passport, birth certificate or other proper identification forms. A fee may be required for residents of some states for a replacement PIN.

    For additional information on replacing your lost PIN, call our toll free telephone number, 888-909-8872.

    ———————————-

    Looks like you’ll have to be writing letters – I suggest you send them certified mail.

    Hopefully you don’t need your credit unfrozen right away – this process looks like it could take several weeks or longer. Freezes aren’t always a great solution and don’t give you complete protection from all kinds of identity theft. I read a news article this morning about fake tax returns being made on some college students. A credit freeze can’t prevent that from happening.

    Good luck!

  4. Alice Fluss on June 9th, 2008 10:12 am

    I ordered something on the internet with my credit card and gave my address and phone # for shipping info. from a place that I thought was reputable. I then got 2 e mails, one from Quicken and one from Blockbuster thanking me for opening an account, which I never did. I e mailed them back to tell them to take me off their list. Blockbuster responded but Quicken didn’t. I cancelled my credit card,on which was one small charge from Blockbuster. I notified Experian and put myself on a 6 month security and fraud alert. My question is whether to do a security freeze. I understand that with a fraud alert, if anyone tries to open a credit account in my name, that they call me first. Do you think I should do a security freeze too?

  5. The Identity 'Protector' on June 9th, 2008 11:29 am

    I’m glad you put a fraud alert on your credit file right way. Just keep in mind it will go for 3 months – not 6 months. You’ll have to remember to renew it in early September.

    A credit or security freeze will block anyone from applying for new credit – even you. If you don’t need to get new credit for the next year or so, then you could go ahead and do the freeze. It will cost you about $10 at each credit bureau (depends on your state) to freeze and the same amount to undo the freeze. And by all means – keep your PIN in a safe place where you know where it is!

    Neither a fraud alert or credit freeze will do have any affect on your credit score.

    The fraud alert could be just fine for now. Also order your free credit reports from http://annualcreditreport.com if you haven’t already. It’s good that you canceled that credit card account and put your card company on notice that you could have a problem. I hope they reimbursed you for the Blockbuster charge.

    I’m still a BIG fan of the ‘Shopsafe’ feature my Bank of America credit card has. It lets me create a temporary account number with a specified limit that I can choose. I always use it when I shop online. No one ever gets my real number. I think Discover has a similar feature.

  6. Debbie Dillinger on September 9th, 2008 11:51 pm

    I used http://www.optoutdetectives.com they provided me with everything I needed to do a credit freeze myself, plus various other opt out information.

  7. Kara Clark on October 23rd, 2008 2:54 pm

    My husband and I are applying for a home loan, and we discovered that he has a freeze on his credit account with one of the bureaus. The problem is, he never requested the freeze. So, he didn’t just lose his pin; there never was one. And, of course, there is not a single person we can speak to about this problem or how to fix it. Do we have any chance of unfreezing his account?

  8. The Identity 'Protector' on October 23rd, 2008 3:29 pm

    Now that’s a tough situation. I can’t imagine how a freeze was put on your husband’s credit files without him knowing. An identity thief sure wouldn’t do that.

    The only thing I can think of that you can try is what I recommended to John in the comment at the top. He’s the guy who lost his PIN. That should work for you, too.

    I hope you’re not in a big hurry. Credit bureaus are notorious for working on their own time schedule and not exactly customer service oriented. Good luck.

  9. Randy Anderson on November 14th, 2008 11:18 am

    I placed a freeze with all three agencies but only one sent me a PIN. Now I want to remove the freeze and they want me to pay for a new PIN and then pay again to remove the freeze.

    I am flat out accusing (no names mentioned) those two agencies of deliberately not sending me a PIN. I base this on, in 51 years of using the US mail I have never had a single issue or anything lost.

  10. The Identity 'Protector' on November 14th, 2008 12:23 pm

    Actually, a security freeze will cost you when you place the freeze. Then you’ll be charged again to remove it. And the charge is from all 3 credit bureaus. If you want to ‘refreeze’, you’ll continue paying the fees – usually $10 per credit bureau. That’s the downside of using the freeze feature.

    I’ve had very good luck with just doing the free fraud alert and renewing it every 90 days. Whenever I’ve applied for new credit, I get a phone call or sometimes even a letter asking me to verify my identity.

  11. Vera on January 19th, 2009 2:07 pm

    I had my car broke into here in Canada, I lost some ID. (Licence, old, old cancelled visa, health card and maybe cheques) All the suppliers of these are not worried. They say that it should not be a problem. Should I worry? They’ve all been contacted, and they’ve said, “just watch my bank account”.

  12. The Identity 'Protector' on January 19th, 2009 4:35 pm

    I would worry. The ‘suppliers’ aren’t worried because it’s not their information that was stolen. That was really some superficial advice they gave you.

    I’m not sure what’s available in Canada that’s similar to a security freeze in the US. I believe you can place a fraud alert of some kind on your file. Remember to keep it renewed. Here’s a link to some info at the Canadian branch of Equifax:
    http://www.equifax.com/EFX_Canada/consumer_information_centre/faqs_e.html#ques17

    Here’s an exert from that page:
    “What can I do if I suspect I am a victim of identity fraud?

    If you have lost or had your personal identification stolen, or if an institution has contacted you regarding suspected fraud activity, please call Equifax toll-free at 1 800 465 7166 or 514 493 2314. We will add a statement to your file to alert credit grantors that you may be a victim of fraudulent activity.

    This may mean that the next time you apply for credit, you may be questioned more thoroughly. The credit grantor wants to make sure that you are, in fact, the person you say you are. The additional questions that might come your way are asked because of the “fraud alert” on your file. ”

    Keep a close watch on your credit reports for any new accounts that you didn’t open. Also, check all your credit card statements carefully for fraudulent purchases. You can even call your credit card companies and have them give you a new account number.

    Because your health card was stolen, always carefully read any statements sent to you about your medical care to be sure someone isn’t pretending to be you to get health care. You wouldn’t want some else’s health issues in your file or have to be responsible for any medical charges. Again, I don’t live in Canada and am not real sure of how your health system works.

    Keep a close eye on this for the next few years before you can start to breathe a bit easier. Good luck with this.

  13. Amanda Nelson on February 17th, 2009 4:39 pm

    I also have a security freeze on my equifax file that I never requested. I can’t get ahold of one single person. Who can I go to for help?

  14. The Identity 'Protector' on February 17th, 2009 8:24 pm

    The credit bureaus are notorious for not being able to actually talk to someone. I can’t imagine how you could have a security freeze on your report that you never place – they must have made a mistake.

    The only thing I can think of to try is writing them a letter and sending it by certified mail as I suggested to another reader above. Good luck with it. Here’s how the Equifax website says you need to do it:

    —————————-

    How do I permanently remove a state law or Equifax voluntary security freeze on my Equifax credit file?

    To permanently remove your state law security freeze from your Equifax credit file you must write to us at the address below and include the following information:

    1. Name, address, date of birth and Social security number
    2. Your 10 digit security freeze confirmation number
    3. 2 pieces of ID verification, such as a copy of your drivers license and copy of Social Verification. ie: Paystub, W2, or Copy of SSN Card
    4. Your letter should clearly state that you wish to permanently remove your security freeze from your Equifax credit file.
    5. Payment of applicable fees to temporarily lift your freeze. We accept checks, American Express, Mastercard, VISA and Discover cards for payment. If you are paying by credit card, please include the following information:

    • Name of the person as it appears on the credit card
    • Type of credit card (American Express, Mastercard, VISA, or Discover Card)
    • Complete account number
    • Expiration data (month and year)
    • For American Express – 4 digit Card Identification Number (on front of card above the account number)
    • For Mastercard, VISA, or Discover Card – 3 digit Card Identification Number (on back of card at the end of the account number) Please do not send cash through the mail.

    To permanently remove the security freeze on your Equifax credit file please send the information above to the address below.

    Equifax Security Freeze
    P.O. Box 105788

    Atlanta, Georgia 30348

  15. Keyundiab on March 9th, 2009 2:14 pm

    Im trying to apply for a job, but out of all the jobs applications I turn in, I never get called for a job for none of them. I was wondering could my bad credit be the cause of this, and when I tried to look at my credit score online they told me that I had a security freeze on my account, now Im new to this credit checking stuff, and I barely know what a security freeze is, so why would I put one on my credit score thingy…..What can I do to get it removed, what should I do?

  16. The Identity 'Protector' on March 16th, 2009 8:07 am

    In today’s job market, there are probably more applications for every job than ever before. Employers pretty much have their pick of the litter. I doubt that your credit score is a factor at this point because companies usually don’t take the time and manpower to run credit checks on every resume that they receive.

    If you believe your credit history is bad, go to annualcreditreport.com and get your free annual credit report from all three credit bureaus. That’s the site that really is free and you can get your reports but not your score every year. Credit scores aren’t free but don’t cost much to get one if you’re curious about knowing your score.

    As for the unknown security freeze you say is on your credit files, please see my response above to Amanda.

  17. keisha on April 29th, 2009 12:33 am

    I wanted to receive a copy of my credit report. I filled out the info and a message came up saying i could not see the report because I had a freeze. I didn’t put a freeze on my file so I requested a identification number reminder to take it off and i got a message saying I don’t have a freeze. What should I do??

  18. The Identity 'Protector' on April 29th, 2009 6:55 am

    I got a notice a couple of days ago that Equifax is experiencing an outage that is affecting their ability to provide a credit report. If you were trying to get your credit report from Equifax, it’s possible that this outage caused your problem.

    I suggest you go to http://annualcreditreport.com again and request your free report from Experian or TransUnion. (or both)

    Try Equifax again next month – hopefully they’ll have their problem resolved by then.

  19. michelle m stanley on May 2nd, 2009 8:00 pm

    I have to say as well, I never requested a security freeze on my credit report. I tried to get one and the message came up there is a freeze on my reports. If I didn’t do it and never received a message or call saying there is a freeze on my credit report, who could of done this? I will be writing the credit bureaus and finding out why but it just baffles me.

  20. Leane Murray on May 13th, 2009 7:18 am

    You know, it’s ten bucks here, ten bucks there, but the reality is there are so many scam artists and bogus junk debt collectors out there who have gotten so brazen and open about flouting federal law that they’re more than happy to manufacture bogus accounts with bogus unpaid balances they can claim as “debt” that it’s worth it.

    If you’ve ever been the victim of someone like Asset Acceptance or NCO Financial (two of the worst agencies and two of the most heavily fined for exactly this kind of activity), believe me, the ten, twenty, thirty, whatever bucks it costs to protect yourself is no big deal. The sheer headache of having to prove a negative over and over again is just plain draining, and that’s what they count on — that you’ll be overwhelmed and just give them money you never owed anyone for accounts that never existed in the first place.

    I pay to monitor my credit reports weekly and I have security freezes and fraud alerts on all of them. We aren’t seeking any kind of credit any time soon, so it makes sense for us.

    Frankly, I think the whole credit reporting bureau scheme has to be revamped. The way the system works now makes it easier for outside parties to enter fraudulant information on your report than it does for you to dispute and remove it. One really has to wonder who’s in bed with whom here.

  21. Britni on July 15th, 2009 4:09 pm

    I recently graduated from college and decided to get a credit report because I actually might need to start using credit. I attempted to get one of the “free” reports and it told me that I have a security freeze on my account. I had never even heard of a security freeze, much less enabled one on my credit. I am really confused about why this would happen and how to remove it.

  22. amanda childress on March 11th, 2010 9:06 am

    I just turn 18 and there is a security frezze on my credit is it because i just turn 18 because i never put one one there ?

  23. The Identity 'Protector' on March 11th, 2010 10:09 am

    I truly can’t say I know how your credit files got a freeze put on them if you didn’t do it. What is telling you that there is a security freeze?

  24. amanda childress on March 11th, 2010 5:14 pm

    well it says a security alert

  25. The Identity 'Protector' on March 11th, 2010 6:12 pm

    A security freeze is something that keeps anyone including you from opening a new credit account. You have to pay to put it in place and pay again to have it removed if you want to apply for credit somewhere.

    A security alert is another way of saying “fraud alert”. Experian uses that term: https://www.experian.com/fraud/center.html . It will expire after 90 days.

    How your credit files have it on them w/o you placing it is something I have no idea about. Sorry. However, having a fraud or security alert is a good thing to help prevent anyone else from opening credit in your name. You can keep it renewed by going to just one of the credit bureaus every 3 months. All of them will automatically get notified of the alert.

    Glad to see that you checked your credit report! Hope you went to the place where you get the really free ones: http://annualcreditreport.com .

    Hope that helped. 🙂

  26. colver on September 28th, 2010 1:02 pm

    I requested a permanent freeze be lifted off of our credit with all 3 companies. When can I expect to have a 3rd party run our credit for a loan???

  27. BLT on November 14th, 2010 3:39 pm

    Does anyone have any idea how to get a pin number from Equifax? I believe they never sent me one so now I can not remove the freeze on my account for a credit check. Trans Union and Experian are no problem communicating with but there is not one place that I can find online or by phone that even tells you how to get it.

  28. The Identity 'Protector' on January 10th, 2011 3:54 pm

    The credit bureaus are notorious for being hard to talk to an actual person.

    Here’s a link to the best page I could find on their website for contacting them:
    http://www.equifax.com/cs/Satellite/EFX_Content_C1/1162298957492/5-1/5-1_Layout.htm?packedargs=Locale%3Den_US

    I got there by clicking on ‘Customer Service’ then ‘Contact Us’.

  29. jennifer on March 2nd, 2011 5:06 am

    in 2008 i lost my wallet and i have an idea of who it is…i moved here to iowa and tryed to rent a place out but they wouldnt let me because i had a theft charge in 06/07 in my name,which i never did,my idenity had been stolen for sure,i had it cleared but the people i spoke too(the landlord gave me this number,a bureau place) and i had it cleared that it was not me,they couldnt tell me who it was but i didnt need them to tell me…could that affect a secruity freeze even though i never asked for one?n i dont remember any pins to unfrezze it,for sure it will be free because of idenity theft right?,i will have to try to contact all 3 credit reporters..after reading some comments,thanks for the information..please answer…

  30. Megan on March 31st, 2011 10:32 pm

    I just turn 18 on March 20th and I went to check my credit and it says there is a security freeze and a fraud alert and it wont let me get it. Why? And how did this happen? I’m pretty sure I know who would have done it but I want to make sure before I take the next step in getting this cleaned up. Could someone else put a security freeze on there?

  31. Jay Orman on June 9th, 2011 6:18 pm

    10 Digit PIN Numbers?

    Equifax and Experian allow 10 digit PIN numbers for credit freezes. Does anyone know if Transunion will allow a 10 digit PIN number for a credit freeze?

  32. Bionic Lady on October 26th, 2011 10:46 pm

    I’m having the same problem with Equifax as several other consumers. I had no idea there was a freeze on my account until the loan office was not able to pull my report from them. I never requested a freeze therefore was never given a PIN, so I have no way of removing the freeze until they bother to send me one. This is extremely frustrating as their is a home I would like to purchase and this is the only thing holding us up.

  33. Anonymous on February 25th, 2012 2:19 pm

    What are the different levels of access and nondisclosure between an “Extended Fraud Alert” that remains on one’s account for 7 years and a “Security Freeze” that remains until removed?

  34. Pat on June 6th, 2014 9:26 pm

    Seems I too have a freeze on my credit report that was not requested and I did not a fee, and so of course I have no pin number. I guess Monday I will start the wheels rolling to try and fix this. Is it just me or are ALOT of people having this done and they didn’t request it? just saying….

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