'It's all in place right now:' New federal law offers free credit protection

MILWAUKEE — The personal information of people was compromised, and then they had to fork over money to freeze their credit.

It hardly seemed fair.

Now, you can protect yourself for free.

"It's all in place right now," explained Michelle Reinen of the Wisconsin Department of Consumer Protection.

This, more than a year since a massive data breach at Equifax. One-hundred and forty-five million Americans were told their personal information like their Social Security numbers, birthday and address had been compromised.

They were told to freeze their credit.

"In Wisconsin, we did have a cost of $10 for each of the three credit reporting agencies," Reinen said.

Reinen said it used to be credit bureaus charged a fee to freeze your credit and another fee to lift the freeze.

A new federal law eliminates that.

"It is now free. It's free to lock down your credit. It's free to thaw your credit," Reinen said.

Under the new law, the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, TransUnion and Experian -- had to create new web pages for requesting fraud alerts and credit freezes.

Jennifer Schilling of Empower Credit Union advocated for the change.

"Given the number of data breaches cybersecurity thefts people are obviously very concerned about their credit. We'll work with our members to show them how to go to each of their credit bureaus to put a freeze on their credit," said Schilling.

Parents can also freeze a credit file for a child under 16.

"It also has a provision if you are a guardian of a vulnerable individual that you can lock down that credit as well," Reinen said.

Even with a freeze, it's not possible to cut off thieves entirely but it does make their crimes more difficult to pull off.