Credit bureau Equifax now says 147 million consumers (the number has been rising) had information stolen in 2017's massive breach. That's a lot of data in the hands of hackers.
It's not too late to protect yourself by freezing your credit. A new law will even allow you to do it for free.
The upsides of a credit freeze
A credit freeze restricts access to your credit reports, so it significantly reduces the ability of identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
Here's how it works: A freeze prevents creditors from viewing your credit report. That makes it difficult for them to evaluate whether you're a good enough risk to be approved for new credit.
Although a creditor could decide to green-light an account without a credit report, nearly all companies will choose to deny the application.
A credit freeze won't disrupt your existing accounts. Companies that were able to view your credit reports before the freeze will continue to have access.
A credit freeze does not affect your credit score.
What the new law does
In most states, consumers have had to pay up to $60 to have all three of the major credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — freeze or unfreeze their credit.
The new law — signed by President Donald Trump on May 24 — ends those fees. You'll be able to freeze or thaw your credit files free of charge.
The law is expected to take effect in September. Equifax has already abolished its fees. Presumably, they'll remain in place at Experian and TransUnion until the law takes hold.
How to freeze your credit
To freeze your credit, you’ll need to go to the websites of each of the three bureaus individually and request that your credit be frozen. That won't change under the new law; you'll still have to contact all three separately.
You'll provide your name, Social Security number, date of birth, address and other personal information.
Each credit reporting agency will supply you with a PIN number. Save these PINs, because you’ll need them later to unfreeze your credit.
How to unfreeze your credit
When it comes time to lift the credit freeze, you’ll need to again contact each credit bureau separately, and provide the respective PIN number or password.
Credit reporting companies must lift the freeze within three days.
How to unfreeze temporarily
You may request that a credit freeze be lifted just temporarily. You might want to do this if you’re applying for a job, or for a loan through a new creditor.
The lift would allow the employer or lender to access your credit report, and you could have the freeze restored once your report has been reviewed.
In the majority of states, a credit freeze will continue indefinitely until you request that it be removed. In a few states, a freeze automatically expires in seven years.
Follow us on Twitter: @moneywisecom