By Robert Hackett
September 22, 2018

The day has come—huzzah!

As of Friday, the big three credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and everyone’s favorite, Equifax—began offering free credit freezes, perhaps the best security measures to guard against identity theft. If you’re not in the market for a new line of credit in the near-term, you should seriously consider applying freezes across your accounts. I highly recommend it. (As I have been doing for years!)

Here’s how the system works. Banks and lenders inspect consumer credit reports, the financial health records maintained by credit bureaus, when prospective customers seek to open new lines of credit; for example, when they apply for a new credit card, or look to take out a loan. Financiers use this information to judge a person’s credit-worthiness. But fraudsters can also use stolen personal information in attempts to open new lines of credit in other people’s names. When successful, they drain people’s coffers, ruin reputations, and cause blistering headaches.

Freezes are consumers’ best bet to keep the crooks at bay. While most big credit bureaus offer credit monitoring services and fraud alerts, the security of these supposed defenses pales in comparison to that of freezes. The reason: These services tell you when something has already gone wrong. Freezes, on the other hand, prevent thievery from occurring in the first place.

The reform is long overdue. After last year’s disastrous Equifax hack, which exposed personal information for 148 million Americans, Congress tweaked the Fair Credit Reporting Act, forcing credit bureaus to offer fee-less freezes. Previously, these companies had been charging anywhere from $2 to $10 per freeze. This payment condition, however slight, incensed many lawmakers and consumers (the author included): Why should consumers pay to protect themselves against the fallout from these companies’ own security failures?

They should not have to pay, and now that situation has been set aright.

Some things to keep in mind: To implement a freeze, you will need to secure your account with a PIN. Write these secrets down, perhaps encoded, and keep them in a safe place. Existing relationships with banks remain unaffected, so don’t worry about freezes causing any obstacles there. But if you are planning to apply for a mortgage, open a new bank account, get a new credit card, take out a loan, or some such activity, you’ll need to unfreeze your accounts first. Leave yourself a few days for the thaw. Afterward, you can freeze up your files once more—for free!

Follow these links to credit bureau websites for more information about how to implement freezes: Equifax (phone number: 1-800-685-1111), Experian (1-888-397-3742), TransUnion (1-888-909-8872). If you freeze your files, let me know how your experience goes? I would love to know.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


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