If you want an easy and free way to minimize your chances of identity theft, you should freeze your credit. Once you do, only companies with which you already do business will be able to view your credit files, and it will be nearly impossible for someone else to open a new account in your name.
The drawback to freezing your credit is that you won't be able to open a new account either. This can be a big problem when you're trying to buy a car or a house, or even to get a new cellphone or cable-TV contract. Because of this, the credit bureaus make it easy to temporarily or permanently "unfreeze" your credit.
Unlike fraud alerts, you have to set up a credit freeze with each of the Big Three credit-reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — individually. Fortunately, freezing and unfreezing your credit is now free across the United States thanks to a law that went into effect one year after 2017's massive Equifax data breach.
Unlike Equifax or TransUnion, Experian doesn't require you to set up an account with it to freeze your credit. You simply verify your identity, and then you'll create a 5-to-10 digit PIN with which you can temporarily or permanently "lift" the freezes.
You can set the dates and duration for temporary "thawing" periods. Experian also lets you create a one-time PIN that you can give to a potential creditor — such as a company offering you a car loan — so that it can see your credit file just once.
How to set up a credit freeze with Experian online
Go to https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html (opens in new tab) and click on "Add a security freeze," then "Freeze my own credit file."
Then fill out the online form, which will ask for your full name, current street address, Social Security number, date of birth and email address. You'll get the option of choosing your own PIN or having one generated for you.
Click the button marked "Submit" and you'll have to answer some verification questions, such as whether you lived at a particular address or ever had an account with this or that firm. They're the same kind of questions you get when you're trying to get a free annual credit report.
Once Experian is satisfied that you are you, you'll be told that the credit freeze has been added. Make sure your write down your PIN.
How to set up a credit freeze with Experian by phone
Call Experian at 888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742). You'll have to provide your name, address, date of birth and Social Security number and answer a set of identity-verification questions. You can choose a PIN or have one generated for you.
How to set up a credit freeze with Experian by mail
Write a business letter including your full name, date of birth, Social Security number and any address at which you have lived in the past two years. Include copies of a driver's license or state ID card AND a utility bill or bank statement.
Send the whole thing (we recommend certified mail) to:
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
You'll get a mailed response about whether your freeze was successful, along with a PIN if it was.