SEATTLE – Following on the heels of Washington and other states that have approved credit freeze laws, the nation’s three leading credit bureaus recently announced they will provide all Americans with the opportunity to freeze unwanted access to their credit history. But before you rush to sign up, the Attorney General’s Office says there are some things you should know.
Each bureau has different procedures to request a freeze and some older adults may want to wait until September 2008. That’s when a new state law takes effect that allows anyone age 65 or older to freeze access to their credit files for free. Unless you’re an identity theft victim, you’ll pay $10 to each of the bureaus to freeze your credit now; that’s $30 total.
To help clear up the confusion, the Attorney General’s Office has updated its Web site with new information and a chart that compares new and old laws and explains application procedures. The information is available at www.atg.wa.gov/freeze.aspx. Consumers who don’t have Internet access can also call the office’s Consumer Resource Center hotline for information at 1-800-551-4636.
Attorney General Rob McKenna crusaded for legislation to allow Washington residents to freeze access to their credit reports before they become identity theft victims. He said a security freeze is the strongest tool available to prevent identity thieves from opening new credit lines in a victim's name.
“While identity thieves often hijack existing accounts, they can do far more damage by opening new credit,” McKenna said. “Lenders can't approve a credit application if they can't see your credit report.”
If you want to freeze your files, you’ll need to write to all three bureaus and provide certain documents to prove who you are. Your files will stay frozen until you tell the bureaus to lift the freeze.
When you freeze your file, each credit bureau will give you a PIN to lift the freeze should you need to. You’ll need to thaw or permanently remove the freeze if you’re applying for credit, buying a house, taking out a car loan, etc. If you want to provide a lender with access to your files, at least one bureau will charge a fee – even if you are an identity theft victim.
Washington new freeze law, which goes into effect in September 2008, will allow consumers to receive a temporary lift within 15 minutes through an electronic contact method chosen by the credit bureau, or within three business days of receiving a request by mail. Under current law, it can take up to three days to process a thaw request.