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One of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is now free

New "freeze" law aims to help consumers

A change effective today in world of consumer credit protection is really good news for you. You can now add credit-report freezing to the list of things you can demand, without paying a dime.

Starting today, you won't have to pay a fee to credit-reporting firms when they want to use a freeze to help protect themselves, and you,  from identity theft. You will, though, need to contact all three of the big credit bureaus individually to get complete protection — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

A credit freeze prevents a lender from checking your credit score. A crook couldn't open an account using your personal data. Once the freeze is in place, you have to intentionally "un-freeze" it  — either temporarily or permanently — if you apply for a credit card or a loan so the bank can check your credit. That is also free now.

Those fees-- which ranged from $3 to $10-- were wiped away by a new law that was signed in May, just a few months after Equifax announced that its consumer database had been breached in a cyber attack. The private information of almost 150 million people-- names, birth dates and Social Security numbers-- were hacked.

According to a recent study, 90 percent of customers are trying to better protect their privacy after becoming aware of how common fraud is. Less than 10 percent, though, freeze their credit.

Here's another tip: The pro-consumer group U.S. Public Interest Research Groups says you should also freeze your credit report at the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange. This is the credit-reporting firm that telecom companies and utilities use to check your creditworthiness when you want to open an account. 

Here's how to freeze your credit report for free:

• TransUnion: Visit TransUnion.com/credit-freeze. The company also has a free-freeze mobile app called myTransUnion, available at the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.

• Equifax: Visit https://www.Equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/. Or call its automated line at 800-685-1111.

• Experian: Visit www.Experian.com/freeze. Or call 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742).


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