If you fear your identity has been stolen or you’re very concerned about the risk, one option is to freeze your credit. Once your credit is frozen, the credit bureaus can’t release information from your credit reports without your permission, effectively stopping someone from borrowing money using your identify.
The cost to freeze your credit varies by state. Often, it’s free for victims of identity theft and sometimes also for seniors. Even if there’s a fee, the three bureaus typically charge just $5 to $10 to freeze your credit and a similar fee to unfreeze it. The latter will become necessary if, say, you apply for a mortgage or a new credit card. Keep in mind that it isn’t just lenders who look at your credit reports. A credit freeze could also interfere with a job application or renting an apartment.
Freezing your credit is an easier choice for those who are, say, over age 50 and no longer applying for new loans and credit cards. What if you’re younger and still regularly applying for credit, so a credit freeze would be a hassle? As an alternative, you might place a fraud alert on your credit files, which will then require lenders to take extra steps to confirm your identity before they open an account in your name. There’s no cost involved. If you place an initial fraud alert at one of the three major credit bureaus, it’s required to inform the other two. An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days, but it can be renewed.
What if you’re a victim of identity theft? In those situations, you can place an extended fraud alert, which can last up to seven years. You’ll need to submit proof of identity theft, such as a police report, and—unlike an initial fraud alert—you need to send the request to all three credit bureaus.
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