While many consumer groups have quite legitimately criticized the recently passed federal legislation that abolished many of the banking regulations that were put in place to combat some of the problems that brought about the financial meltdown of 2008, one part of the new law that has been largely unreported is a provision that will enable anyone to freeze and unfreeze their credit with each of the credit reporting bureaus at absolutely no cost. While in the wake of last year’s massive data breach at Equifax, many Americans froze their credit at each of the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, a recent study done by Consumer Reports indicates that 52% of people aware of the Equifax data breach have not frozen their credit.
The very best thing you can do to protect yourself from many forms of identity theft is to put a credit freeze on your credit report at each of the three major credit reporting agencies.  However, the credit reporting agencies are recommending that you use a new invention of theirs which they call a “credit lock” instead of a credit freeze to protect your data.  They tout them as being more convenient and tie them into other services.  However, the truth is that you are better off with a credit freeze than with a credit lock.  Credit freezes are governed by laws that protect you, while credit locks are creations of the credit reporting agencies pursuant to contracts which they can change at will.  Quite frankly, I don’t trust any of the credit reporting agencies to have our best interest as their primary motivation so I believe you are better off choosing to put a credit freeze on your credit reports at each of the three major credit reporting agencies rather than a credit lock.
For more information about credit freezes check out this article I wrote for the Saturday Evening Post which described credit freezes in detail.
The new federal law allowing you to freeze and unfreeze your credit reports for free goes into effect in late September. I will remind you again as the effective date of the law approaches although frankly, the cost of initially putting a credit freeze on your credit reports is small enough such that you should consider doing so before then. Presently the cost is determined by the state in which you live.
To get started, it’s best to first understand the laws and fees governing credit freezes in your state. Here is a link to a listing of the all of the state laws.
To get the maximum protection from identity theft, it is important to freeze your credit at each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Here are links to each of them with instructions about how to get a credit freeze:
Once you have frozen your credit, be sure to keep the PIN and information on how to unfreeze your credit report in a safe place.
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