By Robert L. Cain, written for Zip Reports, applicant screening for rentals and employers. Visit their website.
Most landlords and many employers check applicants’ credit before they rent to or hire them. Making it more difficult, however, according to the Identity Theft Center, is that since January 1, 2005 there have been 7,954 security breaches with 1,054,627,432 (that’s right, over 1 billion) personal records hacked, including the 145.5 million from Equifax. The result is that some people have frozen their credit reports so that landlords, employers, or anyone else for that matter, can’t check credit until the freeze is removed.
That can make qualifying an applicant more difficult, or at least delay qualifying. Let’s look at why and how to work with a frozen credit report.
Once credit is frozen, which can take up to five days once the request is made, credit reports are inaccessible except to the person whose credit is frozen. Each of the three major credit reporting agencies allow applying for a credit freeze online though the person requesting the freeze must do it for separately for each agency at a cost of $10 each except for victims of identity theft and people over 65, except from Equifax which has offered a free credit freeze because of their recent hacking.
Even with the freeze, which is in place until removed by the frozen consumer, a credit freeze can be removed temporarily for periods of seven, 15, or 30 days by default, but also for just that day or one organization. Equifax says that the credit report can be released within minutes. That’s what they claim. Whether that is accurate is another question as we’ll see below. The same procedure has to be repeated for each agency. However, if the applicant can learn which agency the landlord or employer is using, he or she can unfreeze credit for just that agency.
Even so, for an applicant to ensure that his or her credit report is thawed, it is best to allow three to five days says Equifax even though they say another place on their website that a freeze can be lifted in a “matter of minutes.”
The lesson here is that anyone who may need a credit report available ought to unfreeze his or her credit several days before heading out to rent an apartment or apply for a job. Do applicants always do that? Of course not, and that presents a challenge for someone who needs a credit report to qualify an applicant.
Applicants also have the opportunity for pulling their own credit reports and taking those with them when applying to rent or for a job. The thing landlords and employers need to be concerned about is a dummied up credit report. After all, once the person in question has an actual credit report, anyone with even moderate skill with a word processing program can create something that looks exactly like a stellar credit report, just phony.
Another ploy landlords and employers may encounter is the applicant claiming his or her credit is frozen so can’t be checked. As discussed above, that simply is not true, and that person might be trying to hide an unacceptable credit report. If an applicant claims that, the landlord or employer has the option either educating the applicant or rejecting him or her out of hand for lying. In defense of the frozen consumer, it is possible that he or she didn’t read the entire explanation on the credit reporting companies’ websites and doesn’t realize that credit can be thawed temporarily. However, someone who took the trouble and learned how to freeze credit most likely would be more knowledgeable than the average person about the entire procedure. Freezing credit is a relatively involved process requiring, even when applying online, coming up with documents and identification that may not be readily available such as a copy of a valid id, proof of address (e.g. copy of utility bill).. Identity theft victims in order to get the free freeze need to provide even more proof of the theft, such as a copy of a police report, identity theft report, or DMV report
A credit freeze protects against someone opening a new account in the identity theft consumer’s name, but it does not protect against a crook using an existing account to run up credit charges. In order to do that, a consumer needs to create a fraud alert. That will or may be effective in stopping a crook from running up charges on an account. When a credit report is ordered or someone uses an existing account, say a credit card, the reporting agency will verify, probably by phone, that the consumer is the one making the application. A fraud alert doesn’t delay getting a credit report on an applicant like a credit freeze does.
It is essential to check credit for rentals and often important for hiring, and a credit freeze can throw a wrench into the process. You may have to allow extra time so you can verify everything on a credit report, though the delay doesn’t stop the process. It is important to warn an applicant who has a frozen report that it may require more than three days to get a credit report and then more time to verify the information on it, after the applicant has requested the thaw.