Free credit freezes now in effect

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Depending on where they lived, consumers had to shell out anywhere from $3 to $10 per freeze and then another fee to lift the freeze.

“Paying a fee for freezes added insult to injury because the person doing it probably had been victimized,” said John Heath, directing attorney at Lexington Law in Salt Lake City. The firm helps consumers repair their credit.

While freezing your credit is a proactive way to protect against someone trying to open an account or line of credit in your name, few people do it. A recent study shows that while about 90 percent of consumers have taken steps to better protect their privacy in the last year — i.e., checking their bank statements more frequently — just 8 percent reported freezing their credit.

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“I am 100 percent fully behind the strategy of freezing your credit reports,” Ulzheimer said. “Even if you’ve never been a victim or don’t think you ever will be, I just think it’s smart to have some control over who is accessing your credit report.”

Consumer advocacy group U.S. PIRG also recommends freezing your report at the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange. This is the credit-reporting firm that telecom companies (cellphone, cable, etc.) and utilities (gas, electric, etc.) use to check your creditworthiness when you want to open an account. The difference between it and the big three bureaus is that it does not include your credit score, Ulzehimer said.

The latest change to the law comes 15 years after another credit-related cost was removed for consumers. In 2003, changes made to the Fair Credit Reporting Act required the credit bureaus to provide a free copy of your report annually if you ask for it.

Meanwhile, the new law also extended short-term fraud alerts to one year, up from 90 days. These alerts are separate from freezes: Under a fraud alert, a lender seeking to approve an application must first contact you to verify the request is not from an imposter.



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