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Posted: 10:59 a.m. Monday, Nov. 29, 2010

Credit freeze remains the best way to shut down economic identity theft

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How many times have you received a lawyer letter saying that your personal financial info was breached and may have gone out mistakenly?

Clark has received 3 of these letters about data breach over the years. Each time, he's been told he's eligible for free credit monitoring for a certain period. These letters became so routine, that we practically ignore them. Sometimes, however, we do take notice, such as when 12,000 federal workers recently had their Social Security numbers swiped and. Now those numbers are out there floating in the Internet world.

We know a Social Security number is the El Dorado for criminals who steal money through identity theft. So those people who have their Social Security numbers are fired up when they call Clark, unlike people who just get an innocuous form letter that says their info may have leaked.

Clark's take on this whole issue? It's better to be safe than sorry. Why leave yourself exposed? The greatest risk is when you have no idea your info have been stolen until after criminals have created havoc in your life. It's really easy to seize the day by doing a credit freeze, which is one of the most effective tools against financial identity theft available to consumers today.

As you probably know, each of the three main credit bureaus maintains an active dossier on you that contains info about your payment history, lines of credit and more. A credit freeze allows you to seal your credit reports with each bureau. It does not affect your current use of credit in any way.

When you do a freeze, you get a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know. That added layer of security means that crooks can't establish new credit in your name even if they are able to take over other elements of your identity -- because they don't have your secret PIN.

Then when you actually want to apply for a new line of credit, you simply use your PIN to temporarily "thaw" your files. That makes them accessible to the creditor who's considering you as a customer.

The cost to freeze your credit ranges from free to $10 per bureau, depending on your state. When you multiply that by three credit bureaus, you could pay anywhere from nothing to $30 for a freeze. Victims of identity theft can have any fees waived, and seniors are often exempt from the fees in most states.

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