Worried About Identity Theft? These 3 Tips Will Keep Your Money Safe

Three credit cards are frozen in ice
Chris Zuppa, Sherman Zent and Alexa Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

Criminals only need a few key pieces of information — such as your name, address, Social Security number or credit card number — to steal from you. That’s why so many of us have experienced identity theft in one form or another.

Given this prevalence, we should all be making efforts to tighten the reins on our credit and financial information.

How to Prevent Identity Theft in 3 Simple Steps

In her latest podcast episode, “Money Girl” host Laura Adams outlines the simplest tips for protecting your credit information.

Here’s the quick-and-dirty scoop.

1. Freeze Your Credit

An ice block freezes in a stop action video clip
Chris Zuppa, Sherman Zent and Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, lets you restrict access to your credit report, in turn making it difficult for thieves to open accounts in your name.

Freezing your credit never hurts your credit score, and freezes are now free from all three major reporting bureaus.

You’ll need to apply for freezes from all three credit bureaus for full protection. But that’s as simple as visiting their websites:

You’ll get a PIN from each that you’ll need to have whenever you want to “thaw” your credit. Frozen credit reports can still be accessed, and your credit can be unfrozen in just a few hours.

2. Put Your Credit on Lock

If you want instant access to your credit reports without filling out any online forms, a credit lock may be more appealing to you.

Credit locks are similar to freezes, but they allow you to “unlock” your credit instantly with the use of an app or by logging on with a username and password, instead of having to remember a PIN and fill out a form. But you should know that it doesn’t come with all the federal legal protections that a freeze does.

Credit locks from Equifax and TransUnion are free, but Experian charges $9.99 per month after the first 30 days to use the service.

3. Set up a Fraud Alert

And finally, if you don’t want to freeze or lock your credit, setting up a fraud alert is easier than ever.

Just as with freezes and locks, you’ll need to set one up with all three bureaus. But unlike the old days, when you’d have to renew them every few months, you can set up your fraud alerts to last up to 12 months.

Jen Smith is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She and her husband paid off $78,000 of debt in less than two years on two less-than-average salaries. She gives money-saving and debt-payoff tips on Instagram at @modernfrugality.