PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A massive data breach last year at Equifax exposed personal information involving 148 million Americans. Many experts agree that freezing your credit report is the strongest way to protect against identity theft.
And beginning Friday, you can freeze your credit report for free.
Identity thieves can use the information in your credit report to open credit cards, bank accounts, and take out loans. A credit freeze will prevent that.
A credit freeze essentially blocks a lender from checking your report, which means a criminal can’t open an account using your personal information.
“A credit freeze is much better than credit monitoring because a credit freeze is gonna completely lock down your credit,” said Ted Rossman with CreditCards.com.
Rossman says while people have been freezing their credit reports for years, there usually was a cost involved.
“In the past, it could be pretty expensive. In some states like Pennsylvania, it costs $10 to freeze your credit with each of the three bureaus,” said Rossman.
As of Friday, there is no cost for freezing your credit.
You can place a freeze on your credit report online and it only takes a few minutes. Once complete, each credit bureau will provide you with a unique password or pin to use to temporarily lift the freeze if you need to apply for credit or a loan.
“I urge everyone to enact a free credit freeze. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s gonna save you a big hassle down the road if somebody were to steal your identity,” said Rossman.
And that includes kids. A million children had their identity stolen last year by family members, friends, even strangers using their social security numbers to open up accounts, so be sure to freeze their credit reports too.
More information on credit freezing can be found on the Federal Trade Commissions FAQ website.
To freeze your Equifax credit report, you can do so at the Equifax credit services website.
To freeze your Experian credit report, you can do so at the Experian credit services center.
To freeze your Trans Union credit report, you can do so at the Trans Union FAQ website.