It’s become a little bit easier for you to protect yourself from identity theft. As of Nov. 1, 2007, all three credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, now allow people in all 50 states to freeze their credit, according to Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports.

Why freeze your credit?

It prevents new credit or new accounts from being issued in your name. For people who have had their identities stolen this may come as a relief. If you feel you are at risk for identity theft, it’s a chance for you to take a preventative step.

Credit freezes do not prevent you from using your existing credit, so you can keep using your credit cards, lines of credit, etc.

But whenever you or someone else requests new credit in your name, you have to provide a personal identification number to authorize the new credit and temporarily lift the freeze.

To request a credit freeze you have to do so in writing. Make sure to request it from all three credit bureaus – if you omit one that leaves open the chance for a thief to slip through the system.

If you haven’t been a victim of identity theft think carefully before freezing your credit. It can take up to three days to lift a credit freeze and it requires you to think ahead about applying for new credit.

Aside from asking for a credit freeze, you can sign up for credit monitoring services, which send you monthly updates, or Equifax has a service where you can turn on and off access to your credit information online.

Congress is considering several credit freeze laws.

S.495 Personal Data Privacy and Security Act of 2007 – placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders on May 23, 2007.
S. 1178 Identity Theft Prevention Act – April 25, 2007 sent to Senate subcommittees.
HR.3316 Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2007 (House version) – referred to House committee August 2, 2007.

You can go to the Senate or House Web sites and run searches on these for details of what they contain, but as you can see, it’s taking time for them to make their way through Congress.

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act to protect yourself.

Here are links for each of the credit reporting bureaus:

In most cases, freezing your credit is free if someone stole your financial identity. If not, it may cost you up to $10 per freeze. Compare that against how much you could lose through identity theft.

Nov. 12, 2007.