03 January 2011
The Big Chill: How (and Why) to Freeze Your Credit Report

In these days of rampant identity theft, it sometimes seems that no precaution is too great.  One of the most effective tools against financial identity theft is the so-called “credit freeze.”

Just like it sounds, you officially “freeze” your credit files so creditors and lenders can’t pull your credit report and credit score – unless you first unlock it by providing a unique personal identification number (PIN) that only you know.

That added layer of security means that thieves can’t establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your basic ID, such as a Social Security number and date of birth. Of course, you can temporarily “thaw” your credit files any time you apply for credit or need to allow another party to access your credit report (e.g., when applying for a mortgage or buying a car)

Freeze vs. Alert

It’s important that you not confuse a credit freeze with a fraud alert, which simply tells new creditors that you may have been a victim of fraud in the past and asks them to take additional verification steps before issuing credit.

A fraud alert also removes you from prescreened offers for credit and insurance (a credit freeze does not). Also, anyone can raise a fraud alert. By contrast, credit freezes are not available to all consumers. Each state determines whether its residents may freeze their credit files (Nevada allows it) and in which circumstances.

How to Get Yours

Victims of identity theft have been allowed to freeze their credit files at no charge for some years. But all three of the major credit bureaus have now adopted their rules to allow non-victims access to credit freezes as well for a small fee.

For Nevada residents, the costs are as follows:

                           Freeze             Thaw              Remove

Equifax              $10                  $10                  $10
Experian           $10                  $10                  $10
Transunion    $10                  $10                  FREE

Note that all three credit bureaus provide credit freezes at no charge to victims of identity theft. Just provide proof of the theft, such as a copy of a police report, identity theft report, or DMV report. In addition, credit bureaus typically provide free credit freezes for anyone age 65 or over.

As you weigh the benefits of a credit freeze, be sure to keep these points in mind:

• You must freeze your credit report at each credit bureau individually, as there is no centralized way to freeze all three credit reports at once.

• You generally must make your request in writing or via the credit bureau’s Website, providing your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, copy of a valid ID and proof of address (e.g., copy of a utility bill).

• If your credit reports are accessed often for work or because you create new accounts with various financial institutions on a regular basis, it is not suggested that you freeze your accounts. The costs to continually “thaw” your reports would tend to be excessive.

Busting Some Myths

Myth: It just takes a few minutes to “thaw” your credit freeze. Nope. Not unless you live in Utah, where residents may lift or remove a credit freeze within 15 minutes after submitting an online request. Typically, you’ll have to wait up to three business days for freezes to thaw.

Myth: You can’t use your credit cards during a credit freeze. You can still use your active credit cards. The only time the credit freeze will pose a hindrance is when you apply for new credit (you’ll need to temporarily thaw your credit file so the creditor can check your credit score).

Secure Your Online Purchases

Because so many scammers prey on Internet shoppers, Nevada State Bank has partnered with Visa and MasterCard® to help you prevent unauthorized online purchases to your credit or debit cards.

Simply register your corresponding credit or debit card with Verified By Visa or with MasterCard® SecureCode®. When making purchases at participating Web sites, you will be asked to enter your password to identify you as the authorized user of the card. It’s that easy!

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