Freeze your credit reports before you get burned. That's the message from security experts, consumer advocates, and some state attorneys general. They say more people should consider a credit freeze as a way to block identity thieves from opening new credit cards and other accounts in your name. They recommend a freeze even if your identity hasn't been stolen. "It's much better to shut the door before it even takes place," says Mike Litt, a consumer program advocate at the nonprofit US Public Interest Research Group. "You can save yourself so much time and headache." This is different from a credit monitoring service, which you have to pay a monthly fee for and which alerts you if a new account is opened or other suspicious activity takes place. A credit freeze is the only way to stop criminals from opening new accounts in your name.
But there are some downsides to a credit freeze to consider. It also blocks you from opening new lines of credit, so if you plan to take out a mortgage or an auto loan or apply for a new credit card you'll need to remember to unfreeze it each time. And residents of some states have to pay a fee for a freeze. Freezing is a must if an account has been opened in your name or if you've been notified that your Social Security number was taken in a data breach. But even if identity theft hasn't struck, you still should seriously consider it, since data breaches have become so common. Freezing won't hurt your credit score. But you will still need to check your statements every month, because it won't stop thieves from using your existing credit or debit cards to make fraudulent charges. Click for more, including how to freeze and unfreeze your credit reports. (Read more credit report stories.)