You will soon be able to stop everyone from using your good credit name, even if you have not yet had the misfortune of dealing with the mess created by a stolen identity. That's because by November 1 all three credit bureaus will allow you to "freeze" your credit report, which means no one can access your report until you give them permission.
It's not only a good idea to prevent identity theft, it's also a way to make you think before opening up a new credit account. If you're having trouble getting control of your impulses and want to get them under control, think seriously about freezing your credit accounts.
Before the change, only people who could prove they were an actual victim of identity theft were able to freeze their credit account. Seniors in certain states, where it was mandated by state law, could also freeze their accounts.
To freeze your account you will need to contact each credit reporting agency -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- in writing. When you go to their websites you won't find anything about the new freeze service, but it's a lot cheaper than paying for credit monitoring, which they all promote.
Victims of identity theft don't have to pay for the service, but non-victims will have to pay $10 (unless your state mandates lower fees) to freeze their account at each of the agencies. If you want to allow someone to see your credit history, then you'll have to pay another $10 to unfreeze the account. The process can take several days to freeze and unfreeze an account, so don't freeze your accounts if you are thinking of making a major purchase soon. Since it does take several days to unfreeze an account it gives you time to think and not make a major purchase on impulse.
Lita Epstein is the author of more than 20 books including the "Complete Idiot's Guide to Improving Your Credit Score" due out in December.