A new federal law will make it possible to receive a free credit freeze, a step that could help thwart identity thieves.
Starting Sept. 21, people will be able to apply for free credit freezes and year-long fraud alerts, according to Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission. The freeze restricts access to your credit file through the big three reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TranUnion – making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
Currently, credit freezes typically involve fees which vary from state-to-state and company-to-company. Those fees will go away in September, allowing consumers to freeze and unfreeze their credit files throughout the country.
The law – officially called the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act – comes in response to last year’s Equifax breach, which exposed information of more than 140 million Americans.
The legislation requires credit bureaus to freeze an account within one business day of a request made online or over the phone or within three business days when notified by mail, NBC News reported. An account must be reopened – or “thawed” – within one hour of a verified request by phone or online and within three business days after receiving a request by mail.
A freeze or thaw does not impact your credit score. After freezing your credit, you will be issued a PIN number to use to verify your identity.
When the law takes effect in September, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion will each have a webpage for requesting fraud alerts and credit freezes. The FTC will also post links to those webpages on IdentityTheft.gov.
The new law also allows parents to freeze a child’s credit file to prevent identity thieves from using a minor’s name to open an account. A child credit freeze is available for anyone under age 16.
In another change, new fraud alerts, which currently are for 90-day periods, will be expanded to one year. A fraud alerts tells any business that runs your credit that they should check with you before opening a new account.