Dear Debt Adviser,
I have a freeze on my credit report with all three credit reporting agencies. Recently, I tried to get a copy of my credit report and was denied. I was told that I could not get my credit report or have access to it because of the freeze that I have in place. Is this accurate? If so, please advise me on how to approach this situation. I really don't want to remove the freeze from my credit reports.
-- Lynn

Dear Lynn,

For readers who are unaware of the terminology, a freeze on a credit report prevents you from opening new credit accounts. Security freezes on your credit reports are one of the best ways I know of to help prevent identity theft. A freeze will prevent a new creditor from viewing your credit report without your express permission. Without a credit report, most efforts of thieves to open new credit accounts using your personal information are thwarted.

The security freeze stays in place until you remove it. When you do want a new account, you may request a temporary thaw for a particular creditor, or permit a temporary lifting of the freeze for all potential creditors if you are shopping for a loan. State laws can vary on the fine points of how a credit freeze works.

Unlike a fraud alert on your credit reports, where you only need to contact one credit bureau and that bureau will contact the others, a security freeze must be placed individually with each major credit bureau. Depending on the state, you can do this yourself for free or a small fee of $3 to $10. Typically, you have another small charge when you thaw the freeze. In most states, the fees are waived for victims of identity theft.

Security freezes aren't absolute, although who can view your report is highly restricted. Typical exemptions include state or local law enforcement authorities, creditors that have an existing financial relationship with you and an entity you may have hired to monitor your credit file.

However, you should be able to review your credit report without authorizing a thaw in your bureau records. In other words, you can keep the freeze on your report, as you say you wish to do, and still examine your file.

I spoke with my friends at Experian and they verified that you should be able to access your credit report for your own purposes without lifting the security freeze. However, you may be asked to provide security-related information in order to verify your identity.

My recommendation is to contact the bureaus individually about accessing your credit report. If you want to request a free report under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, explain that when you make the request from the bureau.

Meanwhile, keep that freeze in place for as long as you believe it is necessary.