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A few months ago, we discussed in this spot the risk of identity theft and the impact that can have on one’s credit.

The reporting agency Experian had its data on millions of Americans raided by computer bandits who gathered Social Security numbers, addresses, loan account numbers and such.

Today let’s talk about being proactive by initiating a credit freeze to protect your financial identity. What is that and how does that help?

Anyone wanting to get a loan must typically endure a credit check through one of the reporting agencies used in the loan industry. If you put a freeze on your account with these agencies, the prospective lender will not lend because they can’t see your credit history. The prospective thief using your identity will then be thwarted in getting the loan in your name.

To freeze your report, you must contact the three reporting agencies: Transunion, Experian and Equifax, supplying your name, address, birthdate, Social Security number and other info.

After requesting the freeze, you will be given a special ID number or password from each agency that you would use to unfreeze a report in the future (like, when you want to get another loan). This is to prevent a thief who has your general info from masquerading as you to ask for an unfreezing.

You can ask that your frozen report be temporarily or permanently lifted. A freeze does not affect your credit. It also does not prevent getting your free credit reports from the agencies (one free one each year from each agency — after that you get charged a fee if you need a report more often than once a year.).

A freeze does not prevent you from opening a bank or other financial account, applying for a job, renting an apartment or getting insurance. But the freeze may have to be temporarily lifted for a specific party and a specific time if they want to see your report.

When unfreezing, the reporting agency is required to do that within an hour if the request was online or over the phone.

While the freeze is in place, current creditors can still view your report. Governmental agencies with a court or administrative order, or a subpoena, can also view your frozen reports.

Freezing does not stop prescreened credit offers. This is typically where you get pre-approved credit cards in the mail. If this is annoying, you can opt out for five years or permanently. Some lenders send offers not based on pre-screening and the opt-out right doesn’t stop that solicitation.

Fraud alerts are a different kettle of frozen fish. This is where the alert request alerts you of unapproved probes. An extended fraud alert will alert you to unauthorized credit probing for seven years. Those in military service can get an alert during the period of foreign deployment lasting a year at a time but are extended continually during deployment.

An excellent starting place for info on all this freezing, unfreezing and fraud alert is found on the Federal Trade Commission website at consumer.ftc.gov.

While we freeze this winter, there’s no reason not to freeze those credit reports.

Brett Kepley is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, Inc. You can send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820. Questions may be edited for space.