CONSUMER REPORTS -- You know what's great about living in North Carolina?

There's a freebie here most of the nation doesn't get. In most states, folks just like you are paying between $2 and $10 to freeze their credit at each credit bureau. You add that all up and it totals about $4.1 billion dollars. Whoa! That's a lot of money to pay to companies that collect and sell your information--- without your consent.

Since the Equifax data breach, you've been able to freeze your credit for free with Equifax. And this week the company announced plans to give consumers the ability to freeze and thaw their credit for free--for life. The program begins January 31st.

A credit freeze is the single, most effective way to protect against credit fraud.

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"Most creditors need to see your credit report before they issue you new credit. But if you have a freeze on your account, they can't pull your file –– and may not extend you credit –– which should stop fraudsters,” explains a Consumer Report expert.

You need to contact each of the bureaus individually, doing just one isn’t enough protection. When you ask for a freeze online, it’s free. Click on each of the bureaus for the online form.




NOTE: You can temporarily “thaw” your freeze so you can get a car loan or a credit card. To do that you’ll need to get a PIN from each of the bureaus. Often, they do this by mail. And if you lose your PIN they can charge you to get it back.

The downside, is a freeze can also shut out companies you want to do business with. So, if you're in the market for a car or a home loan or even a new cell plan, take care of it before you institute the freeze.

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You might also be interested in a fraud alert. Fraud alert warns prospective lenders that your information has been compromised.

"A fraud alert requires a lender to take reasonable, extra steps, to confirm that the person trying to open a new credit account, is in fact you."

Activating a standard fraud alert is free, just contact any one of the three big credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or Transunion –– who then pass it on to the other two.

"Typically, a fraud alert lasts 90 days. Which means you have to re-up every three months. But on the plus side, you're entitled to a free credit report every time you do."

If can prove you're already a victim of i-d theft, a seven year, extended fraud alert is also available.