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Free credit freezes prompt lots of questions: Money Matters

September 30, 2018

Free credit freezes prompt lots of questions: Money Matters

The new federal law that took effect Sept. 21 about free credit freezes for all is yielding a lot of questions. Here are some I received this past week:

Q: In your column last week about credit report freezes now being free, it wasn’t clear whether there is any cost to unfreeze them, or whether there is a subsequent cost to re-freeze.

D.H., Cleveland

A: Under the new federal law, there is no cost to freeze, thaw, unfreeze or refreeze. In most cases, you’d probably be talking about freezing your credit files initially and then, when someone needs to check your files, you likely would thaw your file for perhaps a week to cover that query. You might temporarily thaw your file for a specific period of time if you were applying for a credit card or car loan, for example.

Or if you prefer, you could freeze and unfreeze, and then refreeze it once you got your business taken care of. You might do this if you were mortgage shopping.

Q: One thing you might want to address in a column is whether a freeze affects soft inquiries. I have had two soft inquiries in the past year that I am aware of. In both cases, it was being done to verify my identity online. Once was when I signed up for Medicare, and the other time was when I wanted to reschedule a FedEx delivery.

In both cases I got multiple choice questions about previous addresses, previous employers, banks I do business with, etc. -- information that could only be gotten from credit files.

Does a freeze affect companies and organizations from performing these soft pulls of information?

R.B., Parma

A: The short answer is yes, in most cases. We’ll come back to that.

It’s not that Medicare or FedEx is pulling your credit. But they’re using a third-party to access your credit file to generate these out-of-wallet questions that aren’t easily known even by an identity thief or even people living under your same roof.

If your file is frozen, it’s likely a third party won’t be able to get access to it. I don’t know specifically about FedEx or Medicare. But I know that both the Ohio Department of Taxation and the Social Security Administration rely on these out-of-wallet questionnaires to verify people’s identities online. But if the person’s credit file is frozen, the online process can’t be completed. In the case of state taxes, this means a person’s return cannot be e-filed; it must be mailed in the old-fashioned way. And in the case of Social Security, if someone is trying to create an online account, it must be done in person at a Social Security office.

Some soft pulls are permitted under the new law, even if someone’s file is frozen. This includes insurance underwriters, landlords and employers. (A soft pull refers to cases where a credit account or loan isn’t actually being opened.)

Q: In the paper, you ran the phone numbers to call to get a credit security freeze, but not the phone number to unfreeze. Can you provide those?

W.A., Euclid

A: The phone numbers are the same to freeze or unfreeze. They are:

By phone:

Equifax 800-685-1111 (Press 3 for a freeze)TransUnion 888-909-8872 (Press 3 for a freeze)Experian 888-397-3742 (You have to enter your SSN, ZIP code and date of birth at the very beginning. Then it’s option 1 for fraud issues, then option 2 to order a freeze.)

Online (do not give out your credit or debit card number or any bank information):

https://www.transunion.com/credit-freezehttps://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html#content-01

Q: I went online to freeze my credit files. I was unsure what to do when I got to TransUnion’s site, which said this: “Credit freezes are a great way to protect your information. However, activating and removing a freeze doesn’t take effect right away which limits your flexibility if you want to take advantage of credit offers immediately.”

P.E., Berea

A: This stuff ticks me off so much. This is just TransUnion’s attempt to scare you away from a freeze, which is regulated by law. Perhaps TransUnion wants to talk you into a credit lock or fraud alert instead, which are very different and don’t necessarily protect you from much at all.

I’m not sure what TransUnion means by “right away.”

The federal law that took effect Sept. 21 requires the bureaus to remove a freeze or temporarily “thaw” it at the consumer’s request within one hour if the request is made through the toll-free dedicated phone number or online. If the request is made by mail, the freeze must be removed or thawed within three business days.

So if you’re someone who likes to roll up to Lowe’s or Kohl’s and spontaneously open a credit card in exchange for a 10 percent discount, then a credit freeze is probably not for you.

But if you’re someone who has just bought a house and is doing a bunch of remodeling, then may it makes sense for you to open a Lowe’s credit card in exchange for long-term discounts. This -- the home purchase and remodeling -- aren’t things you woke up one morning and decided to do.

Q: I’m concerned because I ordered a copy of my credit report, twice, from Experian and to date, have received nothing. I handle finances for my elderly mother and sister and requested a copy of their reports through Experian and got both of them in a short amount of time.

I had placed a freeze on my credit because of a security breach at a previous employer and I wonder if that has something to do with my inability to obtain my free annual credit report. I ordered all three at the same time from the number you provided in a previous column. I appreciate any help and or guidance you can give me.

P.J., Cleveland

A: A credit freeze does not affect your ability to get your free annual credit report. The only time a credit freeze would stop you from getting your credit report is if you’re going through a third-party company to do it. Then it’s not necessarily considered a self-disclosure.

If I were you, I’d make your request by mail. You can print out this form and mail it in:

https://www.annualcreditreport.com/manualRequestForm.action  

If you can’t access the online form and print it out to mail in, you can simply write a letter stating that you’d like a copy of your credit report from whichever of the bureaus you want your report from: Experian, TransUnion or Equifax, or two of them, or all three. In your letter, provide your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, and your previous address, if you’ve lived at your current address for less than two years.

Mail your letter to:

Annual Credit Report Request ServiceP.O. Box 105281 Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Q: I tried to call to freeze my credit file, but I got some lady with a thick accent and I couldn’t understand her. I wasn’t comfortable giving my information, so I didn’t. What should I do?

R.S., Richfield

A: If you reached any live person, you either called the wrong number or waded through an automated operator maze unnecessarily. When you call the numbers listed above, you can do it through the automated menu -- a computer. You don’t need to talk to a customer service representative.

To reach Teresa Murray, email moneymatters@plaind.com or call or text 216-316-7064. She cannot respond to all queries or comments.Previous columns: cleveland.com/moneymattersOn Twitter: @TeresaMurray On Facebook: www/facebook.com/MurrayMoneyMatters

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