Identity theft is a huge, time-consuming and costly pain, and it’s hard to avoid because our personally identifiable information (PII) is everywhere. However, you can protect yourself from some forms of identity theft by placing a freeze on your credit report.
A credit freeze prevents anyone, even yourself, from opening new accounts like credit cards or utility services. If you need to open accounts while your credit is frozen, you’ll have to the lift the freeze with each of the three major credit reporting agencies.
You may have also to pay fees for freezing and unfreezing each report. State laws determine the fees, which range from $3 to $10, so if you were to freeze, thaw and refreeze all three of your reports, you could end up paying $90 each time.
Most identity theft victims can do this for free, and some states allow free freezes for minors, senior citizens and disabled residents. Other states permit temporary lifts, which let you apply for credit before the freeze goes back in effect. Other states let you freeze reports for free even if you’re not an identity theft victim.
Below, we’ve outlined nine states that allow free freezes according to the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — as well as some government websites. As you can see, the rules vary, so be sure to check the laws in your state.
In the Centennial State, the first time you place a security freeze on your credit report (with each bureau), is free. It costs $10 to remove the freeze; subsequent freezes also cost $10.
Active-duty military residents can freeze their credit for free starting Jan. 1, 2016. Most residents who aren’t identity theft victims must pay a fee.
Freezing and thawing credit files in Indiana is free.
Freezing and thawing credit files in Maine is free. If a credit file must be created, there’s a $10 fee, says Experian.
5. New Jersey
Security freezes in the Garden State are free, but to temporarily or permanently remove a freeze costs $5.
6. New York
In the Empire State, the first time you place a security freeze on your credit report (with each bureau) is free. It costs $5 to remove a freeze, and subsequent freezes cost $5.
7. North Carolina
Requesting a security freeze online is free, but requesting a freeze by phone or mail costs $3 with Equifax or TransUnion. “Experian elects to not charge a fee for North Carolina consumers regardless of contact method,” wrote Kristine Snyder, an Experian spokeswoman, by email.
8. New Mexico
Here, TransUnion doesn’t charge to freeze credit reports, but Equifax charges $10 for those who aren’t victims of identity theft.
“TransUnion has construed the law in the most consumer-friendly manner possible,” said David Blumberg, TransUnion’s PR director, by email. Equifax did not respond to a request for comment.
Experian charges $10.50 for non-victims.
“New Mexico’s fee is $10; however, that state assesses a tax on credit freezes, so Experian’s fee includes the tax,” Snyder wrote.
9. South Carolina
Freezing and thawing credit files is free for all in the Palmetto State.
Things to Remember
Freezing your credit reports won’t prevent identity theft. Someone can still steal your bank login credentials, for example, and make fraudulent purchases. Your Social Security can be used for things besides opening new accounts, and someone could use your identity to commit a crime.
Despite the fees for freezing your credit, it’s a smart way to arm yourself against identity theft. Of course, if you are a victim, you can freeze your credit for free, but you may need to document the theft (say, with a police report) to have fees waived. Again, be sure to check the laws in your state.
Since identity theft is so common, it’s helpful to know the signs and get in the habit of reviewing credit reports for suspicious activity. You can get your free credit report summary every 30 days on Credit.com.
More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:
- The Credit.com Credit Reports Learning Center
- What’s a Good Credit Score?
- How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report