By Sonya Sellmeyer, Consumer Advocacy Officer for the Iowa Insurance Division
According to the Insurance Information Institute, over 20,000 Iowans reported being the victim of identity theft in 2021. Identity theft occurs when someone else steals your financial or personal information such as credit card information, social security, or insurance numbers. The information may be used to open or use credit, obtain medical services, or even steal your tax refund. Identity theft may occur during a data breach, by stealing your wallet or purse, or “phishing” by sending emails or “smishing” with text messages that appear to be from a legitimate organization to obtain your personal information. A credit freeze is a tool Iowans may use to protect themselves against identity theft.
Freezing your credit locks access to your credit report and new lines of credit. Anyone can freeze their credit for free, and you do not have to be the victim of identity theft.
To freeze your credit you must initiate the freeze separately with all three credit bureaus. It may be done online, on the phone, or by mail.
Equifax, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348 or 800-685-1111
Experian, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013 or 888-397-3742
TransUnion, P.O. Box 160, Woodlyn, PA 19094 or 888-909-8872
Each of the three may ask you different questions to verify your identity. The questions may include your address and financial history for the last two years.
If you need to use your credit to open a credit card or buy a car, unlock it with the bureau used by the lender. Once the request to temporarily “thaw” your credit has been received, the bureau has three days in which to unlock it or 15 minutes if received via a secure internet connection. Credit already established with companies will not be altered by this freeze, and will have no impact on your credit score. When making your credit accessible, ensure you freeze it again once the credit check is done.
Parents and legal guardians can also place a credit freeze on all individuals under the age of 16. Incapacitated adults and active duty members of the military may also have their credit frozen by an authorized individual.
Also, order a free credit report to ensure your credit history is correct and up to date. An annual free credit report may be done at annualcreditreport.com or 877-322-8228, and request the report be pulled from each of the three credit bureaus. Until the end of December 2022, you may request a free credit report weekly. Normally, you may request a free credit report annually from each of the three bureaus.
If you have been the victim of identity theft, the Iowa Attorney General's Office has a free identity theft passport program. Freezing your credit does not guarantee you won’t be the victim of identity theft, but it is an easy and free way to protect access to credit.