Not so long ago, a credit freeze was a tool usually reserved for people who had suffered identity theft. But as data breaches have piled up — culminating with the massive data breach at credit agency Equifax announced in September — the freeze has become more widely recognized as the most effective way to protect your credit, even if a thief hasn’t yet made fraudulent use of your personal information.
The reason: When you place a credit freeze (also known as a security freeze) on your credit reports, new creditors can’t review them to judge whether you’re eligible for a credit card or loan — and in turn, lenders are unlikely to grant credit to fraudsters posing as you. When you need to shop for credit, you can temporarily lift the freeze.
What’s the downside? Unless you have a police report proving you were a victim of ID theft, in most states you’ll have to pay (at each bureau) to impose a freeze as well as when you need to lift it. (Equifax is waiving fees to add and lift freezes until the end of January.)
To set up a credit freeze, take these three steps.