It hopefully just got a little more difficult for scammers to abuse someone’s credit information, because, as of Sept. 21, 2018, consumers can now freeze their credit at all three of the major credit reporting agencies, for free.
Consider this one the “Equifax rule.”
Last year, in the wake of the massive data breach at Equifax, which exposed the personal information of more than 145 million consumers to hackers, a push began to stop allowing the credit reporting agencies to charge to freeze someone’s credit.
Each state has different rules around credit freezes, but in some states, it costs $10 to place a credit freeze on their account and another $10 if they want to lift the freeze.
Not anymore though.
Going forward, consumers can freeze their credit for free at Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. A credit freeze prevents lenders or other credit providers from opening a new account without a consumer unfreezing their credit.
The change, which takes effect on Friday, September 21, was actually put in place by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law earlier this year.
Most of the attention around the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act was focused on the regulatory relief portions of the bill, which was considered by many to be a rollback of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
But the bill also contained a portion about giving consumers more control over their credit.
As the Federal Trade Commission noted on Friday, under the bill, consumers can now freeze and unfreeze their credit for free. The law also allows parents to freeze their children’s credit for free (applies to children under 16), and guardians, conservators, and those with a valid power of attorney can also get a free freeze for their dependents.
Additionally, fraud alerts placed on a consumer’s credit file will be extended from 90 days to one year. A fraud alert requires businesses that check a consumer’s credit to get the consumer’s approval before opening a new account.
According to the FTC, consumers must contact each of the three major credit agencies independently to place a credit freeze on their accounts.
Regardless of whether consumers ask for a freeze online or over the phone, the credit reporting agency is required to freeze the consumer’s credit within one business day.
Unfreezing must happen even faster. When consumers want their credit unfrozen, if the request is made over the phone or online, the credit bureau is required to take that action within one hour.
If consumers make those requests via snail mail, the credit agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days.
To place a fraud alert, consumers only need to contact one of the three credit bureaus. That agency, regardless of which one it is, is required to contact the other two to communicate the consumers’ desire to add the fraud alert.