Personal Finance

Consumer action: Putting the “Freeze” on credit files

In the wake of 40 million MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and American Express accounts recently being breached, consumers and legislators are scrambling for ways to protect their personal and financial information from being hijacked and used fraudulently by hackers and ID thieves.

One type of privacy protection being widely debated is the option to “freeze” your individual credit reports. Californians have been protected by such a law since 2002. Vermont, Texas, and Louisiana have also passed “freeze laws” and other states are taking a closer look at enacting similar types of consumer protection.

Placing a freeze on your credit files with the three major credit reporting agencies – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – effectively shuts out potential lenders from accessing your credit files in order to make you an offer for credit. It would also protect your data from being used by identity thieves. When applying for new credit accounts or loans, consumers would use a special password to “unfreeze” their accounts.

Consumer advocates who support such a freeze point out that this type of privacy protection “prevents the damage before it occurs.” Consumer action groups see this as one of the most effective measures available because it places the control in the hands of the consumer and not the data-collecting agencies who profit from selling consumer information.

Companies that sell credit file data, including the credit reporting agencies, argue that freezing credit files is “overkill.” For some people, such a freeze could become a constant hassle. Before applying for a loan or opening a new bank account, they would have to contact the credit bureaus to temporarily unfreeze their files, a process that could take several days.

They also claim it would prevent consumers from taking advantage of instant credit promotions such as “10% off purchases” when applying for a new store-issued credit card. And applying for a mortgage would become “more complicated, with even more paperwork.”

Whether you feel the option of being able to freeze your credit data is a good idea or a bad idea one thing is becoming increasingly clearer – consumers want more control over who has access to their personal and financial information.

About the author
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Author: James H. Dimmitt
James is editor of “To Your Credit” a FREE weekly newsletter focusing on managing your personal finances and credit. Subscribe and get a FREE copy of your credit report when you visit: