Several tools are available to help identity theft victims and potential victims in Washington. Instructions are provided for obtaining a credit report security freeze, a fraud alert or a free copy of your credit report. Which option is right for you will depend on your situation.
What is the difference between a fraud alert and a freeze?
- A security freeze means that your credit file cannot be shared with potential creditors or insurance companies. You, too, will not be able to open new credit while a freeze is in place. Individuals can request that a freeze be temporarily lifted for the purpose of obtaining new credit.
- A fraud alert is a less restrictive option and may help prevent fraud. An alert does not block potential new credit, but places a comment on your history. Creditors should contact you prior to opening a new account.
Can I receive copies of my credit reports without requesting a fraud alert or freeze?
Yes. All consumers can obtain a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies, regardless of whether they have been identity theft victims. Call 1-877-322-8228 or make a request online at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.
You may also be eligible for a free copy of your credit report for other reasons, including if you were denied credit or recently placed a fraud alert on your file. If eligible, you may receive free Equifax reports here: www.equifax.com/fcra.
Most consumers are eligible for free credit monitoring and a free credit score from TransUnion. Learn more.
What is a fraud alert?
An alert places a statement on your credit report. If an imposter attempts to obtain credit in your name, the creditor will check your credit and will encounter a statement that says something to this effect: "I may be a victim of fraud. Call me at my phone number 123-456-7890 before extending credit."
How long is a fraud alert in effect?
An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days. If you are an identity theft victim, you can request an extended fraud alert that remains a part of your credit files for seven years.
How do I place a fraud alert?
Call the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three major credit-reporting agencies or make a request online to place an initial fraud alert on your credit report for 90 days. The other two agencies will automatically be notified to place fraud alerts. You may then request that credit reports be sent to you free of charge.
Phone: 1-800-525-6285, https://www.alerts.equifax.com
1-888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742), https://www.experian.com/fraud/center.html
How do I request an extended fraud alert?
To place an extended fraud alert, you will need to provide a copy of a police report and proof of your identity. Details are available on the credit-reporting agency websites.
I’m on active duty in the military; can a relative place a fraud alert for me?
Yes. If you are away from your permanent duty station, you, your spouse or another personal representative may place an active duty alert on your credit file to help minimize the risk of identity theft while you are deployed. Active duty alerts are in effect on your file for one year. If your deployment lasts longer, you can place another alert on your credit file.
The process for placing and removing an active duty alert is the same as the standard alert described above. If you are not on active duty, use the standard fraud alert.
When you place an active duty alert, you'll be removed from the credit reporting companies' marketing list for pre-screened credit card offers for two years unless you ask to go back on the list before then.
What is a “security freeze”?
- A security freeze means that your credit file cannot be shared with potential creditors or insurance companies;
- A security freeze can help prevent identity theft since most businesses will not open credit accounts without checking a consumer's credit history first;
- A freeze is not 100 percent fail-safe as some creditors can and will issue credit without pulling a credit report. Firms that you have an existing business relationship with will be able to pull a report despite the freeze and your information may be released for the purpose of prescreening for credit offers.
Who can request a security freeze?
Anyone can request a freeze.
Can I request a freeze for my child or an incapacitated adult?
- Child under 16? Children under 16 years of age probably won’t have a credit file, and if they do, it may be because of fraud. If the child has a credit file, then the parent or legal guardian may request a security freeze. If the child does not have a credit file, then the credit reporting agency must create a record for the child and cannot release any information about the child until the freeze is lifted. The parent or guardian will have to provide proof that they have authority to act on behalf of the child and proof of the child’s identification.
- Incapacitated adult? Yes. A parent or appointed legal guardian of an incapacitated individual over the age of 16 may place a security freeze on the incapacitated person’s credit file and provide proof of the incapacitated individual’s identity. You may have to pay $10 to place a security freeze for a child or incapacitated adult
How do I request a security freeze?
Contact each of the three bureaus. See this page for instructions. Keep copies of your request and supporting documentation.
Is there a cost to place, temporarily lift or remove a freeze?
As of September 1, 2008, identity theft victims and adults ages 65 and older are able to place a freeze for free.
Other consumers pay up to $10 per bureau. Consumers who aren’t entitled to a free freeze would therefore pay a total of $30 to freeze their reports with the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.
Qualifying individuals may be charged a fee to temporarily lift or remove a freeze. Washington’s current law does not address these fees. See this page for details.
The Attorney General’s Office does not endorse or oppose credit monitoring services, and advises consumers to consider whether these services are beneficial. Note that credit-reporting agencies offer packages that provide credit monitoring -- for an additional cost -- with the ability to freeze your reports.
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 prevent your credit reports from being viewed, you need to request freezes from Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.
How is identity theft defined under Washington law?
Washington’s identity theft law states that no person may knowingly obtain, possess, use, or transfer a means of identification or financial information of another person, living or dead, with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any crime. A lost wallet or purse alone would likely not be sufficient grounds for receiving a free freeze. If a thief uses that information to commit fraud, that would qualify.
My information was stolen in a security breach. Can I receive a free freeze? Do I still need to file a police report?
As of September 1, 2008, you may request a freeze. But unless you provide a police report indicating that you are victim of identity theft as a result of the breach, you may be charged a fee. Currently, Equifax will allow a consumer who provides a copy of a data-breach notice to request a free freeze. TransUnion currently allows any consumer to request a free freeze using its website.
Can I open new credit accounts if my files are frozen? How long does it take to obtain access to my credit?
You cannot open new credit while a freeze is in place. You can request that a freeze be temporarily lifted, or "thawed." As of September 1, 2008, Washington consumers will be able to request a thaw within 15 minutes through an electronic contact method chosen by the credit-reporting agency, or within three business days of receiving a request by mail.
How long does it take for a security freeze to be in effect?
Agencies must place a freeze within five business days after receiving your written request and payment of any required fees.
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 Equifax, Experian or TransUnion will receive a message or a code indicating that the file is frozen.
Can I order my own credit report if my file is frozen?
Can anyone see my credit file if it is frozen?
When you have a security freeze on your credit file, certain entities still have access to it. Your 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.
Government agencies may have access for collecting child support payments or taxes or for investigating fraud. Government agencies may also have access in response to a court or administrative order, a subpoena, or a search warrant.
Will a freeze lower my credit score?
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 1-888-5-OPTOUT or filing a request 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 two years or you can make it permanent.
What law requires security freezes?
Washington State’s Fair Credit Reporting Act, RCW 19.182, was amended in July 2005 to allow victims of identity theft the ability to place a freeze on their credit file. Revisions that took effect September 1, 2008, expand this right to all individuals. Since the revised legislation was approved, the three major credit-reporting agencies have implemented procedures to allow any consumer to request a freeze. Revisions that took effect January 1, 2017 allow a parent or legally appointed guardian to request a security freeze for the credit files of children under 16 or incapacitated adults.
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