A security freeze (or credit freeze) gives you the option to “freeze” or lock access to their credit file against anyone trying to open up a new account or to get new credit in your name. When a security freeze is in place at all three major credit bureaus, an identity thief cannot open a new account because the potential creditor will not be able to check the credit file (this is only the case if the creditor checks the credit file before extending credit). When you are applying for credit, you can lift the freeze temporarily using a PIN so legitimate applications for credit or services can be processed. Currently 47 states and the District of Columbia have joined the legislative surge against identity theft, enacting laws that empower consumers to freeze their files.

A security freeze shouldn’t be enacted without careful consideration. Before ordering a security freeze, first make sure no legitimate parties are going to require timely access to your credit (these could include cell phone companies, utility providers, or landlords, to name a few examples). Additionally, if any change is made to your personal information during a security freeze, e.g., if your address changes, the companies that would normally report this to the credit bureaus will not be able to do this—you are responsible for contacting the credit bureau and conveying any changes to your personal information. So, if you are in immediate need of credit, e.g., you are about to apply for a mortgage or need to apply for a car loan, first determine whether you will be able to handle delays resulting from the security freeze.