PLACE CREDIT FREEZES ON YOUR CREDIT REPORTS

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   Identity theft has become the greatest fear of every consumer. It is literally the financial plague, for it will hurt you financially, it may impact your ability to obtain credit, and it will drain you emotionally. It can take years to recover from the damage and cost you an untold amount of time.

   The 2017 breach of Equifax put about half of all Americans, about 148 million, at risk of identity theft. Congress took action and enacted a law that allows you to protect yourself at no cost other than a little time. We recommend that you take advantage of it and freeze your credit with the big three credit bureaus immediately.

   Prior to September 12, 2018, it cost $3 to $12 per bureau to freeze your credit, which is officially known as a security freeze. Don't confuse this with a credit lock, as that comes with a fee. A freeze restricts access to your credit file with the Nationwide Credit Reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. It will make it harder for identity thieves to use their main modes of operation: opening new accounts in your name.

To place a freeze on your account go to each of the credit bureaus' websites and locate the "security freeze" link:

   Take the following steps:

   1. Type in your name, address, social security number, and date of birth. They may ask for a previous address if you have moved in the last one or two years. To further protect you and assure you are who you say you are, questions may be posed about your past credit use or addresses.

   2. Select the security freeze option, or if you have a freeze in place select "unfreeze" if you want to temporarily or permanently remove the freeze.

   3. Jot down your PIN number so you will have it when you want to "thaw" your credit report access, so you can obtain a new car or home loan or even a credit card.

   Should a credit bureau have difficulty verifying your identity, you may have to call them or send verifying information via e-mail. If you desire, you can call or write the credit bureaus to place a freeze on your account, but that will obviously take longer to put in place. You can also place freezes upon your children's credit, which we also recommend you take the time to do.

   When you thaw your credit reports online or by phone, it must be unfrozen by the credit bureau within an hour. The obvious implication of this is that you can freeze the establishment of new credit, you can unfreeze it to open a new account, and then refreeze it. A freeze is effective for one year, so put a reminder in place so that you can renew the freeze and never leave a window open for identity thieves.

   Identity theft is the new number one crime, and the disastrous thing about it is that you will not know, in most cases, that it occurred until it's too late. Cases where someone created an alter ego with another person's identity are regular occurrences. You work too hard to allow some steal your good name exercise: your consumer rights and protect yourself by activating the free security freezes with all three credit bureaus, thank you federal congress person for doing something of true benefit to you.

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