Find out why I locked my Credit Bureau accounts with a Security Freeze, and how you can too.
Why I Froze my Credit
Three things happened in the last week that have made me decide it’s time to put a Security Freeze on my Credit Bureau Accounts.
Online Security Breaches
First, I renewed my Anti-Virus software on my laptop which apparently now includes reviewing recent online security breaches to see if my information was exposed. It turns out that my information was “exposed” in 11 security breaches, dating back to 2013. Four of those breaches were in 2019!
I knew about a few of these breaches, but mostly just my username and password was exposed. I was not too worried about that. A few years ago I stopped using the same password for all my accounts and started letting Google generate (and store) unique passwords for me. That way, even if my username and password for one site is exposed, hackers won’t be able to do much.
For example, my oldest breach from 2013 was Adobe.com. Well, if someone has my unique username and password for Adobe, the only thing they can get is access to my Creative Cloud for a short period… until I notice and shut it down. My password at Adobe only unlocks Adobe.
That’s why I recommend getting and password generator and storage set up. There are a few out there, but Google Passwords is my favorite. My passwords are now all 20 characters long, complete gibberish, and full of asterisks, underscores, hyphens, ampersands, and whatnot. My passwords are like trying to read Wingdings! Nobody is going to hack that! And, with Google’s auto-fill features in Chrome on desktop and Mobile, I never have to type them in.
The second thing that happened was that we got a letter from our Credit Union that their mortgage department had been hacked at the end of 2019. Bank hacks also seem to happen all the time, but this one piqued my interest.
Apparently the names, social security numbers, addresses, dates of birth, and pretty much everything else on our application was compromised. Well, clearly that information was enough to get us a mortgage… so it is too much information to just have out in the universe.
Plus, our mortgage is from a relatively small, local Credit Union. This was not a hack that includes 200 million users. We live in Idaho… this Credit Union certainly doesn’t even have a million mortgage customers.
Equifax Breach News
Third, more information came out this week about the 2017 Equifax breach where the records of 150 million Americans was stolen, allegedly by members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
Sure, the dust hasn’t settled yet on who exactly was behind the hack. But, we know that there was a hack and that someone broke into Equifax and stole names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses of nearly every adult American with info on file at Equifax. There are 210 million adults in the US, and of those, 45 million have no credit score. That means that 87% of the people with a file at Equifax were compromised.
I’d be willing to bet my information was in that file. And, so was yours.
As a result of these three things, I decided it’s time to lock down my credit.
I had done it once before about 15 years ago. But, that was all the way back before iPhones, so the process is totally different now. Now that it is 2020, placing security freezes on all three bureaus is easier than ever.
Here is how to place a freeze on your credit at all three US Credit Bureaus:
How to Place a Security Freeze at Equifax
First, go to the Equifax Security Freeze page:
Then click “Get Started with a Freeze”. The next page will ask you for personal information. They will then try to match your information with an online account. If you haven’t registered for online access before, they will ask you to set it up. This means creating a username and password, which is a great time to use your new Password Generator!
When you have your username and password, they will text you a code for two-factor authentication. As soon as you enter that code, you are in!
Then, in the middle of the page will be a button to “Place a Freeze” which starts a two-step process to freeze your account. The first page asks you to select whether you are creating a new freeze or managing an old one. The second page is just a confirmation screen with a big, red, Submit button. Click Submit and you’re done!
Remember to save your username and password for Equifax so that you can unfreeze your credit in the future when you need it.
How to Place a Security Freeze at Experian
First, go to the Experian Security Freeze page:
Then click “Add a security freeze” and confirm that you are placing a freeze on your own credit file.
The next page will ask you for personal information. Just like Equifax, you are creating an online account. But, instead of a password, you are creating a 5-10 number PIN. I’d rather use a 20-character password, but it’s not the end of the world.
Pro-Tip: pick a 6-digit PIN, so you can use it again when you get to TransUnion.
On the next page, they will ask you some security questions to verify your identity.
Then, if you answer the questions correctly, the freeze starts immediately. No need for confirmations or anything. Just, BAM! Security Freeze active.
How to Place a Security Freeze at TransUnion
First, go to the TransUnion Security Freeze page:
Then click “Freeze My Credit”.
Just like Equifax and Experian, the next page is to enter your information and create an online account. Happily, TransUnion allows big, complex passwords.
Then, they ask you to verify some information. After answering all the questions correctly, click Continue. On the next page there is only one big yellow button to “Add Freeze”. Unfortunately, you then have to create a PIN. They are very picky. It has to be exactly 6 numbers. But, luckily you picked an exactly 6-digit pin for TransUnion, so you can use the same one.
That’s it! Your TransUnion Credit records are frozen.
Freezing Credit Bureau Accounts is Easy
Freezing my accounts at all three bureaus was incredibly easy. It took about 15 minutes to freeze all three bureaus, and I was stopping to take notes along the way. There doesn’t seem to be any downside. Freezing your accounts is free. If someone tries to open a credit card, mortgage, car loan, personal loan, cell phone, utility bill, rent an apartment, or anything else with your information, they will hit a brick wall.
When you do want to use your credit to open a new account, it is easy to temporarily lift your freezes. Just go back to the same landing pages and manage your freezes.
This has the added side-benefit of putting one more small barrier between you and your credit. We all know that Personal Finance is more than “Personal” than “Finance”, and adding small behavioral nudges to push you in the right direction can have a huge impact. So, adding an extra step between you and your credit may just improve your financial situation in the long run.
Adding Freezes to all three Credit Bureaus is an almost painless experience. And, since it is so easy (and free), I think it is a reasonable step for almost everyone on their journey to financial independence.
For more on Managing your credit, check out my article on How I Got an 830 FICO and You Can Too.
Or, you can check out all of my articles on Managing Credit.
And, if you’re really interested, the second chapter of my book is my full Managing Credit strategy, which will show you how to Build Credit, Prioritize, create an Annual Credit Strategy, and Payoff Debts. The book is available in paperback and eBook format on Amazon.com.
I hope this has been helpful! I welcome your comments with your thoughts and questions. And, don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter to get notified whenever a new article is posted.