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Consumer Advisory Bulletin- August 2008

Freezing Your Credit Reports

New law permits consumers to “freeze” or block sharing of their credit reports.

Iowans have a new tool to prevent identity theft – the legal right to tell the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to place a “freeze” or block on sharing their credit reports. A credit freeze prevents potential creditors and other third parties from accessing credit reports without your approval. The law took effect July 1.

How can a “freeze” help prevent identity theft? One form of identity theft is when someone has your name and Social Security number and tries to get a credit card or perhaps a loan in your name. But most businesses will not open credit card or other accounts without checking your credit history at the reporting agencies. If your credit files are frozen, an identity thief probably would not be able to get credit in your name.

Is there a cost for a credit freeze? A credit freeze is free to identity theft victims who have filed a police report of identity theft. For others, a credit report freeze costs $10 each to place a freeze with the credit bureaus, or $30 total for the three reporting agencies.

How to place a freeze: You must write to each of the three credit reporting agencies and provide your identifying information. Identity theft victims should be ready to provide a copy of a police report of the identity theft. (By the way, a “freeze” will not lower your credit score.)

How to lift a credit freeze: A freeze remains in place until you ask to remove it (in order to apply for a new job, for example, or for a home or auto loan.) To lift a credit freeze, consumers must contact each credit reporting agency and pay the required fee. (By law, the maximum each company may charge is $12.)

For more details: go to www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org. Information includes addresses and web sites for Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the information each requires to impose or remove a freeze, and many other details on how credit freezes work. Find detailed information at “Freezing Your Credit Report.” The web site also has a full section about identity theft.

Note: Credit freezes will not prevent all types of identity theft. Identity thieves could still use your existing credit card or other accounts, e.g., and some new accounts may not require a credit check – such as telephone, wireless, and bank accounts.) But a freeze can prevent the vast majority of identity theft that involves opening a new line of credit.

You are entitled to a free copy of your own credit reports each year. Even if you request credit freezes, the Consumer Protection Division recommends that you obtain your free annual copy of your credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies. To order a free copy from each, call 877-322-8228 toll-free, order online at www.annualcreditreport.com, or write to P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

For more information or to file a complaint: visit www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org, call 888-777-4590 (toll free) or 281-5926 in Des Moines, or write to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, 1305 East Walnut, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.

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