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 name—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.