"A lot of credit decisions are done computer-to-computer, so an alert might be missed," says Evan Hendricks, publisher and founder of the Privacy Times newsletter and author of "Credit Scores and Credit Reports: How the System Really Works, What You Can Do."
However, a security freeze, also known as a credit freeze, blocks access to your credit report and credit score. It prevents the credit bureaus from releasing any information in your file without your permission.
You're probably thinking: This is great. Where do I sign up?
While a security freeze is something you should definitely consider if you're an identity-theft victim, you also need to take into account the cost and inconvenience.
The fees to place and lift a freeze vary by state. You don't have to be a victim of identity theft to put a freeze on your credit reports. In many states, it costs $10 to place a freeze on your report. To lift it temporarily, you'll pay anywhere from $2 to $10. But if you've been a victim, there is no charge for the freeze.
You'll find state-specific details about fees by going to any of the three credit bureau sites and searching for either "credit freeze" or "security freeze." You need to check with each bureau for its requirements for placing, lifting or removing a security freeze. You'll also have to verify your identity each time so the bureaus can make sure it's you asking for the freeze.
The freeze stays in place until you ask for it to be removed. And you might want it removed more frequently than you think. Credit information is used for a lot of things. You may need the freeze lifted to open a new credit account, rent an apartment, buy a car, sign up for new cellphone service, refinance your mortgage, or give access to an employer or any other business that requires a look at your report. It can also take several days to lift the freeze.