Put the Freeze on Identity Theft

There are plenty of common-sense things you can do to curb your risk of identity theft.

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There are plenty of common-sense things you can do to curb your risk of identity theft: shred personal documents, guard your Social Security number, and monitor your credit report. But if you really want to roll out the big guns, put a security freeze on your credit file.

A freeze bars anyone from having access to your credit report and credit score without your permission, which means identity thieves will have a tough time opening an account in your nameā€”even if they know your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. That's because lenders generally won't issue new credit without first seeing a credit report.

To put a freeze on your file, you'll have to send a certified letter to each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. In most states, the service is free for identity-theft victims who provide a police report. Otherwise, you'll pay about $10 at each credit bureau, unless your state mandates a lower fee.

Freezes don't make sense for everyone, especially young people with a short credit history. The same goes if you're shopping for a mortgage, auto loan, insurance, or a new credit card. That's because you'll have to temporarily lift the freeze using a pin code each time you apply for a new line of credit. (Companies you already do business with can still access your report.) You may also need to suspend the freeze to get an apartment, utility service, or a job that requires a background check. /p>

Suspending your credit file freeze isn't cheap. You'll typically pay another $10 a pop, and the process can take up to 10 business days. To check fees in your state and get instructions on how to place a credit freeze, go to consumersunion.org/securityfreeze.htm.