New Federal Law Now Lets You Freeze Your Credit for FreeBack in May, Congress passed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which included some consumer-friendly changes to credit freezes and fraud alerts. The act’s most notable change is that it now requires credit bureaus to allow you to freeze your credit for free, drastically reducing the cost of guarding against certain kinds of identity theft. With the act taking effect on Sept. 21, 2018, we’re breaking down the new identity theft protection regulations, comparing the new rules to the old ones and examining where the act falls short when it comes to protecting your identity. To see the new legal benefits you can take advantage of to safeguard your credit, read on.

Free credit freezes

Previously, the cost of credit freezes was determined by state law, so while they were free in some states, in many other states it cost around $2 to $10 per bureau to place, remove or temporarily lift a freeze. That means that freezing your credit at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the three major credit bureaus, could have cost you a total of $30, and then you would have had to pay another $30 every time you wanted to thaw your credit, so a lender could check it. Starting Sept. 21 freezes are completely free, giving everyone equal access to a powerful identity protection tool that lets you block lenders from checking your credit reports (though there are some entities that can still see your credit, even with a freeze in place). Lenders that cannot access your credit reports will not open new accounts using your personal information, which makes it much harder for fraudsters to create credit accounts using your identity.

Additionally, to help curb child identity theft, all parents may freeze the credit of their children and dependents under 16 years old, and those youth freezes are also free. Aside from that, credit bureaus are now legally required to maintain website for requesting credit freezes and fraud alerts. You can find links to those websites on IdentityTheft.gov when they go live, we assume it’ll happen around the end of September. When you request a freeze, a temporary thaw to a freeze or the removal of a freeze from a credit bureau, that bureau has to implement your request within one business day if you notify it by phone or through the website, or within three business days if you notify it by mail.

Extended fraud alerts

Another big change stemming from the new laws is that fraud alerts will now last one year instead of 90 days as they used to, and they will still be free for everyone to place and renew. If you have been a victim of identity theft, you have the option to place an extended fraud alert that lasts for seven years as well. A fraud alert is a flag on your credit reports that indicates you would like creditors accessing your information to verify any actions they’re going to take with you before taking them. Please be aware that fraud alerts are just an indication that you would prefer businesses to check in with you, and businesses are not required by law to honor them. While you can get more protection if you freeze your credit, a fraud alert can be a way to defend yourself from identity thieves without having to deal with blocking and unblocking your reports.

What the new laws don’t do

The changes that the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act bring to credit freezes and fraud alerts are certainly a step in the right direction and make pre-existing identity theft protection tools much more convenient. Even still, while freezes and fraud alerts may protect you from criminals opening new credit cards using your identity, they do nothing against many other types of identity theft. For instance, freezing your credit will not stop someone from stealing your tax refund using your social security number, or using your medical coverage with your insurance details. Even with these measures free and accessible, you still need to be aware of scammers, you still need to keep track of your finances and you still need to monitor your credit, or at least check your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus once a year. Especially with the high number of data breaches that are making personal information easier for criminals to come by, people need to do a lot to make sure their identity theft protection plans cover all the bases, and ideally the government will do more in the future to assist those efforts.

It’s now easier than ever to freeze your credit or place a fraud alert, so put identity theft protection on your to-do list. For more on the best ways to defend yourself from identity thieves, follow our identity theft protection blog.