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New law allows people to freeze and unfreeze their credit for free

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Seventeen million Americans had their identities stolen in 2017 and with recent massive data breaches at big companies, there are bound to be millions more. 

But a new law aims to protect your credit, even if your identity is stolen. 

Credit has become an essential part of daily life. We use it on everything from small everyday purchases to big purchases like a car. 

Now, even renting an apartment or applying for a job takes good credit. 

Now, a new law is helping ensure that your credit is protected. 

"The law allows people to freeze and unfreeze their credit for free," said James Temmer, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin.

"Prior to today, some states allowed the credit bureaus to charge $10-$30 every time you froze or unfroze your account," said CBS News Senior Business Analyst Jill Schlesinger. 

"A credit freeze means no one can access your credit report," Temmer said. 

It means that no one can open a credit account in your name. So if a thief stole your information, they still can't get a credit card. 

"Anybody who's been the victim of identity theft should freeze their credit and considering that nearly 150 million Americans had their data stolen from the Equifax breach a year ago, it really stands to reason that they should all have their credit frozen," said Schlesinger. 

Not only is it now free to freeze your credit, it's also easy and fast. 

Although you can't just freeze it and forget it. That's because once it's frozen, no one can check your credit history without permission. 

"If you apply for a job, if you apply for a loan, buy a car, upgrade your cellphone, all of these things require a credit check. So that means if you freeze your credit, none of those things can happen," Temmer says.

But unfreezing is just as easy. You just go back on the website and enter the pin number given to you when you froze the account and you're done. 

"If you go online or you call, it can be done within 24 hours is the legal mandate for it," said Ashley Dull with CardRates.com. 

This change can be especially valuable for parents. A million children were victims of identity theft last year. 

"And often, nobody knows until that child at some point, 17, 18, 19 applies for his or her first credit experience and finds out their credit is horrendous," said Adam Levin, founder of Cyberscout.

"This way you know that no one is going to be using that, they'll have good credit, they'll have no problems when they turn 18," said Temmer. 

Credit experts say after this change everyone should consider freezing their credit. 

"Unfortunately these days it's not a question of if your identity will be stolen, but when," said Temmer. 

Freezing your credit only helps protect against identity thieves who get your social security number and want to open new accounts. it won't help if someone steals an existing credit card number and uses that.



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