Reporting Identity Theft and Placing Security Freezes on Your Credit Reports
Here are the five most important steps to take if you are a victim of identity theft or want to take precautionary steps to avoid becoming a victim:
1. If you are a victim of identity theft, file a police report with your local law enforcement agency and obtain a copy of the report.
2. Place a ‘security freeze’ on each of your credit reports (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to stop fraudulent accounts from being opened by the identity thief. A security freeze prevents potential creditors and other third parties from accessing credit reports without your approval. Most businesses will not open credit card or loan accounts without checking your credit history. You must contact each of the credit reporting agencies individually online or by postal mail. There is NO COST to place or lift a security freeze. For more information, see detailed instructions entitled “Placing a Security Freeze on Your Credit Report to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft” below.
3. Place a temporary (90-day) "fraud victim alert" on each of your credit reports by calling any one of the credit agencies listed below. The credit agency that you call will forward your request to the other two credit agencies. To request a permanent (7-year) fraud victim alert and add a "fraud victim statement" to your credit file, you must send a request in writing along with a copy of your police report to each of the credit reporting agencies. Your fraud victim statement should give a short summary of your circumstances and ask creditors not to extend any existing lines of credit or open any new lines of credit without contacting you personally. Remember to include your home address, email address, and a telephone number where you can be easily reached. There is no cost for this service. For fraud victim assistance, you may contact each of the credit reporting agencies at:
Equifax, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374; 800-465-7166; www.equifax.com
Experian, P.O. Box 9530, Allen, TX 75013; 888-397-3742; www.experian.com
Trans Union, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022; 800-680-7289; www.transunion.com
4. Order a FREE copy of your credit reports from each credit reporting agency. You are entitled to one free copy from each credit agency every twelve months. Monitoring your credit card statements and your credit reports are the most important steps you can take to safeguard your credit identity because you can catch errors and detect identity theft early. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are private industry competitors who collect data independently. Thus, all three credit reports must be reviewed to ensure the accuracy and safety of your credit information. Your free credit report does not contain your credit score because it is the work product and property of the credit agencies. The Federal Trade Commission required the three credit reporting agencies to create a joint clearinghouse for consumer requests, so ordering your credit report is easy: Just call, write or go online to:
Annual Credit Report
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Phone: 877-322-8228 toll-free
5. Review your credit reports carefully. Look for unfamiliar credit card accounts or other suspicious activity, such as incorrect addresses or indications of delinquent payments. Send a dispute letter’ to each credit agency and creditor with whom fraudulent accounts have been opened. A sample dispute letter is attached to the bottom of this page and can also be found on the Federal Trade Commission’s website at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0385-sample-letter-disputing-billing-errors. Request that all fraudulent account information and inquiries be permanently removed from your credit report. You may also request the credit agencies notify those who have received your credit report in the last six months regarding disputed and erroneous information.
Another valuable resource is the Federal Trade Commission’s website at www.IdentityTheft.gov, which takes the consumer step-by-step through the recovery process. The FTC’s website is a one-stop resource that provides streamlined checklists and sample dispute letters.
You may want to consider contacting a private attorney for legal advice and assistance if you are still having problems after taking these steps. Contact the Iowa State Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at www.IowaFindALawyer.com. Another option is to ask relatives or friends for recommendations or consult the yellow pages of your local phone book for listings under “Attorneys or Lawyers”.
Placing a Security Freeze on Your Credit Report to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) offers consumers the ability to place a “security freeze,” or deny access to, their credit reports. A security freeze means that your credit file cannot be shared with potential creditors. A security freeze can help prevent identity theft, because businesses will not open credit accounts without first checking a consumer’s credit history. If your credit files are frozen, even someone who has your name and Social Security number probably will not be able to obtain credit in your name. Placing a security freeze does not affect your credit score – nor does it keep you from getting your free annual credit report.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How much does it cost?
There is NO COST to place or lift a security freeze on your credit reports. There are no joint credit reports. Everyone has their own which means a couple would need to place six (6) security freezes (3 for one partner and 3 for the other partner for Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Parents may want to consider assisting children near the age of 18 years or older in placing security freezes on their credit files.
How do I place a security freeze?
To place a freeze, you must make a separate request to EACH of the three credit reporting agencies. You must provide identifying information listed below.
Write to the addresses listed below, call using the automated system, or log online and provide the following documentation:
#1 Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
• Send a request for a security freeze to the address listed above with the following:
• Include name, current and former addresses for the last two years, Social Security
number, and date of birth.
• Copy of a utility bill, insurance or bank statement, etc., showing your name and current
To learn more about an Equifax security freeze or to request a security freeze online, go to www.Equifax.com
#2 Experian Security Freeze
P. O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
- Send a request for a security freeze to the address listed above with the following:
- Include name, current and former addresses for the last two years, Social Security number, and date of birth. Enclose a copy of a government identification card, such as a driver’s license, state ID card or military ID card.
- Copy of a utility bill, insurance or bank statement, etc., showing your name and current mailing address.
To learn more about an Experian security freeze or to request a security freeze online, go to www.Experian.com
#3 TransUnion Security Freeze
P. O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834‑6790
- Send a request for a security freeze to the address listed above with the following:
- Include name, current and former addresses for the last five years, Social Security number, and date of birth.
To learn more about a TransUnion security freeze or to request a security freeze online, go to www.TransUnion.com
How long will the security freeze remain on my credit report?
A security freeze will remain on your credit report until you request its removal.
Can I open new credit accounts if my files are frozen?
Yes, but you have to lift the freeze to obtain a new credit card or loan. You can lift it for a period of time, or you can lift it for a specific creditor, or you can lift it permanently. After you send your letter asking for the freeze, each of the credit reporting agencies will send you a Personal Identification Number (PIN). You will also get instructions on how to lift the freeze. There are a variety of ways to lift the freeze (by mail, phone or Internet) using your PIN. There is no cost for lifting the freeze.
What will a creditor who requests my file see if it is frozen?
A creditor will see a message or a code indicating that the file is frozen.
Can a creditor get my credit score if my file is frozen?
No. A creditor who requests your file from one of the three credit reporting agencies will only get a message or a code indicating that the file is frozen.
Will a freeze lower my credit score?
Can an employer do a background check on me if I have a freeze on my credit file?
No. You would have to lift the freeze to allow a background check or to apply for insurance, just as you would to apply for credit. The process for lifting the freeze is described above.
Can I order my own credit report if my file is frozen?
Yes. To obtain a FREE copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) once every 12 months, call toll-free 877-322-8228, or order online at www.AnnualCreditReport.com, or write to P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Please note: A free copy of your credit report does not contain your credit score.
Can anyone see my credit file if it is frozen?
Your credit report can still be released to your existing creditors or to collection agencies acting on their behalf. They can use it to review or collect on your account. Other creditors may also use your information to make offers of credit‑unless you opt out of receiving such offers. See below for how to opt out of pre‑approved credit offers. Government agencies may have access for collecting child support payments, taxes, or in the course of a legal proceeding.
Does freezing my file mean that I won’t receive pre‑approved credit offers?
No. You can stop the pre‑approved credit offers by calling 888‑567‑8688. Or you can do this online at www.optoutprescreen.com. This will stop most of the offers, the ones that go through the credit reporting agencies. It’s good for five years or you can make it permanent.
Do I have to freeze my file with all three credit reporting agencies?
Yes. Different credit issuers may use different credit reporting agencies. If you want to stop your credit file from being viewed, you need a security freeze with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Do I have to lift the security freeze at all three credit reporting agencies?
No. You can ask the potential creditor which credit reporting agency it is going to utilize. Then place a global lift (with a start and end date) or a specific third party lift with that credit reporting agency.
Does my partner’s credit file have to be frozen, too? What about my children?
Yes. Everyone has their own which means a couple would need to place six (6) security freezes (3 for one partner and 3 for the other partner for Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Parents may want to consider assisting children near the age of 18 years or older in placing security freezes on their credit files.
Does a security freeze guarantee that I will not be a victim of identity theft?
No. While a security freeze can help keep an identity thief from opening most new accounts in your name, it will not prevent all types of identity theft (such as; criminal, driver’s license, government benefit, insurance, medical, and Social Security). It will not protect you, for example, from an identity thief who uses your existing credit cards or other accounts. The freeze won’t be able to stop fraudulent activity that has already taken place before the security freeze was initiated. While a security freeze may not be able to protect you in these kinds of cases, it can protect you from the vast majority of identity thefts which involve opening new lines of credit.
If you have complaints or questions, contact our office:
Iowa Attorney General's Office
Consumer Protection Division
1305 East Walnut Street, 2nd Floor
Des Moines, Iowa 50319
Sample Letter for Disputing Billing Errors
Send the letter Certified with a Return Receipt Requested
[Name of Creditor]
Attention: Disputes and Billing Inquiries
[City, State, Zip Code]
RE: [Your Account Number]
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to dispute a billing error in the amount of [$______] on my account. The amount is inaccurate because [describe the problem]. I am requesting that the error be corrected, that any finance and other charges related to the disputed amount be credited as well, and that I receive an accurate statement.
Enclosed are copies of [use this sentence to describe any information you are enclosing, like sales slips or payment records] supporting my position. Please investigate this matter and correct the billing error as soon as possible.
[Cell Phone & Email Address]
[List the enclosures]
Report Identity Theft and Get a Recovery Plan
On the Federal Trade Commission’s website: www.IdentityTheft.gov, you can click on “Get Started” to make an identity theft report and receive a recovery plan or you can click on “or browse recovery steps” to get information about special forms of identity theft such as income tax, child, medical and others.