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Freeze ID Thieves

Now you can block access to your credit in all 50 states.

Almost ten million people a year wake up to the nightmare that someone has stolen their identity and wreaked havoc with their finances. A credit freeze is the best defense because it blocks access to your credit report and score, preventing anyone from granting credit to the thieves.

Until now, this powerful weapon was available in only 39 states. But effective November 1, everyone can freeze their credit files by mailing a certified letter to the three credit bureaus.

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Freezing is free for identity-theft victims. Otherwise, the cost depends on state law or, if your state hasn't passed pertinent legislation, on the credit bureaus' fees. (For your state's law, go to www.consumersunion.org/securityfreeze.htm.) In the 11 states without a law, TransUnion and Experian charge $10 to lock your report and another $10 to unlock it temporarily or remove the freeze permanently. Equifax hasn't released the details of its plan.

Although some experts advise applying freezes at all three bureaus proactively, you'll have to weigh the costs and inconvenience of temporarily unlocking your credit -- but only for new lenders. People you already do business with can examine your report even if it's frozen.

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