How to freeze your credit to protect your identity

credit

According to the Insurance Information Institute, more than 20,000 Iowans reported being the victim of identity theft in 2021.

Identity theft occurs when someone steals your financial or personal information, such as credit card information, Social Security or insurance numbers. The information may be used to open or use credit, obtain medical services or steal your tax refund. 

Identity theft may occur during a data breach, by stealing your wallet or purse, or “phishing” by sending emails or “smishing” with text messages that appear to be from a legitimate organization to obtain your personal information. 

A credit freeze is a tool Iowans may use to protect themselves against identity theft. Freezing your credit locks access to your credit report and new lines of credit. 

To freeze your credit, you must initiate the freeze separately with these three credit bureaus:

Equifax, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348 or (800) 685-1111

Experian, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013 or (888) 397-3742

TransUnion, P.O. Box 160, Woodlyn, PA 19094 or (888) 909-8872

The credit bureaus may ask you different questions to verify your identity. The questions may include your address and financial history for the last two years.

If you need to use your credit to open a credit card or buy a car, unlock it with the bureau used by the lender. Once the request to temporarily “thaw” your credit has been received, the bureau has three days to unlock it for 15 minutes if received via a secure internet connection. Credit already established with companies will not be altered by this freeze and will have no impact on your credit score. When making your credit accessible, ensure you freeze it again once the credit check is complete. 

Parents and legal guardians can also place a credit freeze on individuals under the age of 16. Incapacitated adults and active duty members of the military may also have their credit frozen by an authorized individual.  

Also, order a free credit report to ensure your credit history is correct. Call (877) 322-8228 or visit annualcreditreport.com and request the report be pulled from the three credit bureaus. 

Until the end of December, you may request a free credit report weekly. Normally, you may request a free credit report annually from each of the three bureaus. 

If you have been the victim of identity theft, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office has a free identity theft passport program. Freezing your credit does not guarantee you won’t be the victim of identity theft, but it is an easy and free way to protect access to credit. 

Sonya Sellmeyer is a consumer advocacy officer for the Iowa Insurance Division.