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Freezing your credit file in California

Important information for California consumers

California residents have the option of "freezing" their credit file. A security freeze means that your credit file cannot be shared with potential creditors, insurance companies or employers doing background checks. A security freeze can help prevent identity theft. Most businesses will not open credit accounts without checking a consumer's credit history first. If your credit file is frozen, even someone who has your name and Social Security number would probably not be able to get credit in your name (it is NOT a guarantee however). This security freeze is different than a fraud alert. It came about from the California Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act, Penal Code Sections 1785.1 - 1785.36

Should I get a security freeze on my file?
ScamSafe does not recommend that everyone use a security freeze, since it can be a substantial inconvenience at times. It depends on your situation. However, it does provide the strongest protection for you if you are an identity theft victim or suspect that you may be. If the fear of ID theft is keeping you awake at night, your best bet may be a credit monitoring service (available on this web site), although that costs more.

How do I enable a security freeze?
To freeze your credit file, you have to write to all three of the credit bureaus. You must give them information to identify yourself. A security freeze is free for identity theft victims with a police report of identity theft. The charge for placing the freeze is $10. The freeze stays on until you end it. There is no charge for ending the freeze. The fee for lifting the freeze temporarily is $10 for a date-range lift and $12 for a lift for a specific creditor. The request must be sent by certified mail. The addresses and sample letters for the three credit bureaus can be found here: Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. Give your first name, middle initial and last name, with Jr., etc. Give your home address, your Social Security number and your birth date. You may pay by check, money order or credit card. If paying by credit card, give name of card, account number and expiration date. Experian apparently requires two proofs of residence. A proof of residence may be a copy of your driver's license, a copy of a utility bill, or a copy of a bank statement.

How do I contact the credit bureaus by telephone?
You can get current information on security freezes from the credit bureaus. Call them at the numbers listed below. Equifax 800-685-1111; Experian 888-397-3742 [Select the option to hear California Notice of Rights]; Trans Union 888-909-8872 (this is the special freeze line).

How is a fraud alert different from a security freeze?
A fraud alert means that a special message is placed on the credit report that a creditor receives when checking a consumer's credit rating. It tells the creditor that there may be fraud involved in the account. A fraud alert can help protect you against identity theft--but does not guarantee that the creditor will act in a certain way. A fraud alert can also slow down your ability to get new credit. It should not stop you from using your existing credit cards or other accounts. The three credit agencies use a fraud alert in this way:
· Experian: The fraud alert tells creditors to verify the identity of the person applying for credit.
· Equifax: The alert tells the creditor to call the consumer at a given phone number before issuing new credit.
· Trans Union: The alert may say either to verify identity or to call the consumer at a given number.

How do I open new credit accounts if my file is frozen?
If you want to open a new credit account or get a new loan, you can lift the freeze on your credit file. You can lift it for a period of time. Or you can lift it for specific creditors. After you send your letter asking for the freeze, each of the credit bureaus will send you a Personal Identification Number (PIN). You will also get instructions on how to lift the freeze. You can lift the freeze by phone, using your PIN. The credit bureaus must lift your freeze within three days. The fee for lifting the freeze temporarily is $10 for a date-range lift and $12 for a lift for a specific creditor.

How long does it take for a security freeze to take effect, and to be lifted?
Credit bureaus must place the freeze no later than five business days after receiving your written request. Credit bureaus must lift a freeze no later than three business days of receiving your request.

What will a creditor who requests my file see if it is frozen?
A creditor will see a message, or a code, indicating that the file is frozen.

Can a creditor get my credit score if my file is frozen?
No. A creditor who requests your file from one of the three credit bureaus will only get a message, or a code, indicating that the file is frozen.

Can I order my own credit report if the file is frozen?
Yes.

Can anyone see my credit file if it is frozen?
When you have a security freeze on your credit file, certain entities still have access to it. Your report can still be released to your existing creditors or to collection agencies acting on their behalf. They can use it to review or collect on your account. Other creditors may also use your information to make offers of credit-unless you opt out of receiving such offers. See below for how to opt out of pre-approved credit offers. Government agencies may have access for collecting child support payments or taxes or for investigating Medi-Cal fraud. Government agencies may also have access in response to a court or administrative order, a subpoena, or a search warrant.

Do I have to freeze my credit file with all three credit bureaus?
Yes. Different credit issuers may use different credit bureaus. If you want to stop your credit file from being viewed, you need to freeze it with Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.

Will a freeze lower my credit score?
No.

Does freezing my file mean that I won't receive pre-approved credit offers?
No. You can stop the pre-approved credit offers by calling 888-5OPTOUT. This will stop most of the offers, the ones that go through the credit bureaus. It's good for two years or you can make it permanent.

Source: California Bureau of Consumer Affairs, Office of Privacy Protection

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on July 8, 2004 at 05:40 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I just have a question.
Knowing that my account if frozen can say a spouse get access to my credit account by just having my social security #.

Posted by: Paula Lewis at Jan 25, 2005 6:20:06 AM