Americans can put their credit reports in the deep freeze – and "thaw" them whenever they want – without cost thanks to a federal law that goes into effect this month.
Spurred by the massive Equifax data breach in 2017 that exposed the private data of nearly half of all Americans, Congress passed legislation earlier this year that gives every consumer the right to lock up their credit information quickly and for free. That makes it unavailable to both creditors and identity thieves.
"It's not a cure-all, but it will be a great help in preventing identity theft," said John Heath, partner at Lexington Law, a credit-repair firm.
Although consumers could freeze their credit in the past, most credit bureaus charged between $3 and $10 each time a credit file was frozen or thawed. That made the process cumbersome and costly. The new law makes the process free, and also demands that credit bureaus make the process nearly instantaneous.
The law set up a process for blocking access to your credit report, commonly called a "freeze." By and large, the process is as simple as signing on to each credit reporting company's website. You fill out a short form to establish who you are and pick a pin number that allows you to access your credit report. The freeze will go into effect within 24 hours.