One credit bureau, TransUnion, introduced a smartphone app, myTransUnion, this month that consumers can use to more easily freeze and thaw their credit. The app is available for both Apple and Android phones. Mr. Stephens, of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said he had not seen the app, but cautioned consumers to tread carefully, in case it is used to market other, fee-based products and services.
The credit bureaus also offer something called a credit “lock,” which they promote as a similar, but more convenient way to protect your information. But some offerings carry fees, and consumer advocates prefer freezes because the rules are set by law, rather than by the credit bureaus.
One other less-protective option is a fraud alert, which requires credit bureaus to contact you to verify your identity when a company requests your credit file. Under the new law, initial fraud alerts must last for one year once established. Fraud alerts are free and, unlike the freezes, placing an alert at one bureau means it is automatically placed at all three.
U.S. PIRG also recommends freezing your file at a lesser-known reporting agency known as the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange. The exchange provides credit information to some cellphone, pay television and utility companies. (Some consumers have reported having cellular accounts opened in their names, even though they had placed freezes on their credit reports at the main bureaus.)
The website for the utilities exchange says its database is “housed and managed” by Equifax. But the exchange is a “distinct” entity that requires its own freeze, said Craig Caesar, outside counsel to the exchange. “A separate request to NCTUE is required because it is a separate database,” Mr. Caesar said in an email. There is no cost for a freeze, he said.
The new law also requires credit bureaus to allow parents to create and freeze credit files for their children under 16, to prevent their identities from being misused. The F.T.C. offers information on what to do.
Freezes will not protect you from other types of fraud, like someone using the number of a credit card you already have, or impersonating you online to claim your Social Security benefits. To help prevent those types of theft, Mr. Litt recommends checking your credit card statements regularly for suspicious charges, and setting up and monitoring an online Social Security account, to prevent criminals from opening one first and diverting your benefit checks. A PIRG report suggests other helpful steps as well.