I froze my credit to protect against identify theft. I now want to apply for a couple of new credit cards. Do I need to unfreeze from all 3 agencies (Equifax, etc.) or just one?
You only have to unfreeze the file of the credit reporting agency that the creditor uses to check your creditworthiness; so if for example, the creditor pulls from TransUnion, then you only need to unfreeze your TransUnion file.
Unfreezing varies by agency. There are several options, not all of which are available for every agency:
- Unfreeze for a period of time, specified by you (TU, EQ, EX)
- Unfreeze for a specific named creditor (EQ)
- Create a single-use PIN (EX)
- Provide your personal PIN to the creditor (TU)
- Call to remove the freeze (TU)
This list is not comprehensive; some agencies may offer such services besides the ones I listed.
Note that none of the credit reporting agencies make this a consistent or simple process. This is because they make money by selling their own personalized "lock/unlock" services, which involve creating an account with the agency, and you pay them a monthly fee for monitoring services and credit report access, as well as the ability to selectively "lock/unlock" your report without additional fees. This is not as secure as a security freeze (which has legal weight as mandated by the FCRA) but it is more convenient--because you're paying for it monthly, as opposed to per incident.
Note that if you are victim of identity theft, if you submit a valid police report to each agency, they are obligated by the FCRA to permit you to freeze and unfreeze your file at no cost; normally the cost is between $8-10 per freeze or unfreeze.
Also note that in some states, you are also given the right to view your credit file once a month for 12 consecutive months after the occurrence of the ID theft.
Finally, note that if you are temporarily or permanently removing a freeze, you should have a fraud alert on your file. The fraud alert then notifies the creditor to use additional means of verification. It doesn't stop access to your file. If you create a temporary PIN with an agency, this PIN has a limited-time use, so you cannot create several in advance to use at a later time. The way the process is intended to work is:
- You submit the application
- The creditor uses their computer system to pull your report
- The pull is denied because of the freeze
- The creditor notes the freeze, puts your application on hold and asks you for a way to access your file
- You create a single-use PIN or otherwise grant the creditor access
- The creditor sees your file, sees the fraud alert, and asks you more questions before making a decision.
If you temporarily unfreeze for a specific time period, then the creditor never sees the freeze. They will still see the fraud alert. But this is risky if you have recently been an ID theft victim. The thief still has your information, and in some cases, ID thieves are sophisticated enough to find ways to access your credit files. I know this from personal experience, because when someone stole my identity, the first thing they did was pull my credit reports, and the next thing they did was sign up for a credit monitoring service so that they could continue to access my reports. Once I discovered this, I had to go through many steps to thwart them. ID theft is not just about fraudulent credit card applications. In many cases, it is about complete impersonation, trying to gain as much access as possible.