There is good news for anyone looking to lock down their credit to protect their identities. Starting today, a new federal law makes all credit freezes free and extends fraud alerts from 90 days to one year.

“A freeze on your credit account is one of the strongest tools we have to protect against financial identity theft,” said Michelle Reinen, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. “We hope all Wisconsin consumers consider taking the time to lock down their accounts.”

To simplify the process of establishing these protections, each of the three major credit bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian – were required to create a webpage for requesting fraud alerts and credit freezes.

Those pages are available now:
TransUnion
Equifax
Experian

The law provides a number of services including, such as free account freezes. Placing a credit freeze with the major credit bureaus restricts most access to your credit file, locking out identity thieves who may try to open new accounts in your name. Consumers receive a PIN number when they place the freeze and it will remain in place until the consumer lifts it.

Before the new law, freezing an account with a credit bureau required fees that varied by state, plus an additional fee to unfreeze an account.

Free account freezes for minors is new. The law will also allow parents and legal guardians nationwide to freeze the credit file for a child under age 16. Prior to the new federal law, however, Wisconsin had a law to allow guardians to create and immediately freeze a credit report for minors.

Extended fraud alerts are also new. For consumers who want to protect their credit histories without completely locking the account, a fraud alert is a special message on a credit file that states the consumer is or may be a potential identity theft victim. It requires businesses to take extra steps to verify the identity of an applicant before issuing lines of credit or service. Fraud alerts will be extended to a year (from 90 days) and remain free to place.

Credit monitoring for military members has been added. Within one year, the credit reporting agencies must offer free electronic credit monitoring to all active duty military members.

For additional information, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau or call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-422-7128 or send an e-mail to datcphotline@wi.gov.

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Rex Davenport

Rex Davenport is a reporter, editor and editorial project manager with more than 40 years of experience in newspaper, business magazines and other content channels.