The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (September 2017)
A credit freeze (also known as a credit report freeze, a credit report lock down, a credit lock down, a credit lock, or a security freeze) allows an individual to control how a U.S. consumer reporting agency (also known as a credit bureau: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis) is able to sell personal financial identity data. The credit freeze locks the data at the consumer reporting agency until the individual gives permission for the release of the data. Today, credit freezes are made possible by state laws as well as industry-initiated rules. Laws have been passed by all the US states except Michigan. The first state to pass a credit freeze law was California, with SB 1386 sponsored by Debra Bowen in 2002, effective 2003. In late 2007, all three of the major credit bureaus (following TransUnion's lead) announced that they would let consumers freeze their credit reports, regardless of the state of residency. State laws still apply, however, in instances where the cost or other details of the freeze are more favorable than they are under the industry-sponsored alternative.
Credit freezes are frequently viewed as the most effective way to prevent financial identity theft. Each year in the United States, approximately 15 percent of all cases of identity theft are cases of new account origination identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission. This form of identity theft occurs when a criminal opens credit in another individual's name. In the credit origination process, access to a credit report is critical for a lender to make a risk assessment. Because a credit freeze effectively stops any access to the credit report, it places a block in the process of issuing credit. Individuals who freeze their credit reports must therefore unfreeze their reports before they wish to apply for credit themselves. However, these can be avoided with proper preplanning. With proper documentation, most individuals should be able to unfreeze your credit scores with all three bureaus within 15 to 20 minutes. Generally, electronic unfreezing process takes effect immediately.
Lenders typically require access to the borrower's credit report before issuing a loan in the borrower's name. If lenders cannot see the borrower's credit report, it is unlikely the lender will issue a loan in the borrower's name. Hence, credit freezing should reduce the risk that loans or credit cards will be issued fraudulently. Credit freezes do have some disadvantages, however, such as creating potential difficulties or delays applying for a loan.
In order to thoroughly freeze access to one's credit report, it is necessary to contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies. The associated fees also differ from state to state. In states where laws do not dictate more favorable pricing, the cost of freezing or unfreezing a credit report is $10.00. In some states, credit freezing fees are waived for victims of identity theft. To avoid credit freeze fees, a law enforcement report or complaint is generally required with other documentation. In late 2007, the credit bureaus started to introduce online credit freezing: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Freezing and unfreezing your credit in California is free.
U.S. states without credit freeze laws
Federal preemption of state laws
In 2018 the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, was passed which includes a provision to preempt state laws replacing the large variation of state laws with a federal one that requires all credit freeze to be free of charge. The law is effective September 21, 2018 at which point the credit bureaus will no longer be able to charge for a freeze and a request must be completed within one business day if made online or via phone. They will have three business days to comply with a request if received via mail. 
Lifting a credit freeze requires a PIN. However, in September 2017, a security vulnerability in this system was identified: the PIN is in many cases guessable, and difficult or impossible to reset.
Freezing your credit will NOT prevent your credit score from changing. Existing companies with access to your credit profile can still report positive and negative feedback on a credit profile, meaning if your credit profile is frozen, your credit can still go up or down. Rumors that your credit does not develop during a freeze are false.
- "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Security Freeze — Krebs on Security". krebsonsecurity.com.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-06-13. Retrieved 2007-06-01.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Newsroom TransUnion". newsroom.transunion.com.
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-07-16. Retrieved 2006-07-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Take 15 Minutes to Freeze Your Credit". website.
- "How to "Freeze" Your Credit Files". State of California - Department of Justice - Office of the Attorney General. 2012-10-16. Retrieved 2021-09-02.
- "Security Freeze - Consumers Union". Consumerunion.org. August 8, 2011. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
- "Missouri Security Freeze Law". Archived from the original on September 1, 2008.
- "Alabama HB15 | 2012 | Regular Session". LegiScan. Retrieved 2016-07-07.
- "Can you join a class action suit if you use Equifax's free identity theft protection?". Theverge.com. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
- Lieber, Ron (September 10, 2017). "After Equifax Breach, Here's Your Next Worry: Weak PINs". Nytimes.com.
- "What Is a Credit Freeze? Should I Freeze My Credit?". www.lifelock.com. Retrieved 2021-09-02.
- FTC Identity Theft Victim Complaint Data January 1 to December 31, 2005, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC, USA, Pg. 6 Figure 5, "How Victims' Information is Misused."
- Is freezing your credit the way to safeguard your ID?, USA Today, June 19, 2006
- State Security Freeze Laws, ConsumerUnion.org
- Credit Freeze Survey Majority of Americans are unaware of their ability to freeze their credit records, November 2007
- Map of State Security Freeze Laws, LawServer.com
- Equifax Credit Freeze Link
- Transunion Credit Freeze Link
- Experian Credit Freeze Link
- Innovis Credit Freeze Link