Now that the three main credit bureaus are required to offer you free credit freezes, there are a few things to keep in mind.
To recap: freezing your credit files means lenders can’t check your credit, which helps prevents scammers from opening credit lines in your name (you can still use your current credit accounts if your files are frozen; you just won’t be able to open any new accounts). To be most effective, it’s suggested that consumers freeze their reports at all three bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
This change stemmed from outrage over 2017’s Equifax hack, which left hundreds of millions of people’s financial and personal information vulnerable to cyber thieves.
Experts recommend taking this step as a precaution, but there are a few things to keep in mind. One important point: Equifax and TransUnion no longer require consumers to remember a PIN to unfreeze their credit scores online.
Equifax will now use password-protected online accounts, reports the New York Times, instead of a PIN. Consumers will create a “myEquifax” account associated with their personal email address. TransUnion, too, has consumers create a password-protected account, while Experian still requires a PIN. You will be able to unfreeze your accounts on the websites after you log in.
Lorrie Cranor, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, tells the Times that passwords are often safer than a PIN (and easier to recover). That said, you don’t want to use your run-of-the-mill password; you can use a password generator or manager to create something hackers won’t be able to, well, hack. Lastpass and 1Password are great options and Lifehacker favorites. Here’s more advice on creating a strong password that you won’t forget.
And, as, always, remember that a freeze won’t protect someone from swiping your current credit card information, so be careful out there. If you haven’t done so lately, check your credit report for signs of fraud.