How Freezing Your Credit Impacts Background Investigations
With all of the scams, identity theft and other nefarious activity going on these days more and more people are opting to freeze their credit to prevent unauthorized access or fraud. This is a conundrum for security clearance applicants or current holders when undergoing a background investigation because it will cause delays in completion of the required credit check. Most agencies advise their personnel to unfreeze their credit report for the 30 days immediately after submitting the e-QIP application. This is because the credit report is one of the first things checked to see if any issues are present that would require additional checks. However, if there are financial issues that require follow-up credit inquiries they usually extend beyond the initial 30 days. If the investigating agency has to request for the applicant to unfreeze their credit it would add up to another 30 days onto the completion of the investigation. This is a serious concern for those holding or seeking a clearance.
There is speculation that the full impact of the 2015 OPM data breach is still not fully understood and the effect on security clearance processing was costly to the government in time and money. The more recent Equifax data breach was even bigger numbers-wise, but less of an impact for clearance holders. My advice is to keep your credit report unfrozen for the duration of the investigation to avoid the costs (usually $5-10) of lifting it temporarily or unnecessary delays in the already lengthy investigation process. Closely monitor your accounts during this time to prevent any unauthorized use. The Federal Trade Commission has some good consumer information on credit reports and a Credit Freeze FAQ. Adjudicators are well aware of the potential for fraud and identity theft, the limitations of information provided on credit reports, and take into account various factors beyond your control. The key is to monitor your own accounts, take reasonable precautions in protecting your information, take immediate action if you are targeted by a scam or have your identity stolen, and then document everything.