Excerpted from a Columbus Dispatch story by Michelle Singletary

Just recently, a new law torched some of the banking rules that were put in place after the financial crisis to protect us. But also tucked into the otherwise awful bill was a win for consumers.

By Sept. 21, everyone will be able to place and remove a “security freeze” on their credit files for free. Such a freeze — also called a “credit freeze” — blocks lenders from pulling your credit reports. It’s a powerful tool to thwart identity thieves from using your financial information to open credit cards or take out loans.

With a freeze, the credit bureau can’t release any information in your file without your permission. When you want to apply for a credit card or need someone to view your file for any other reason, you have to unfreeze your credit report and then replace it later. For some customers, this freezing and unfreezing at all three major credit bureaus could cost as much as $60.

Here’s what to expect once the freezes are on the house:

‒ If you request a freeze by telephone or electronically, it has to be done in at least one business day. After receiving a freeze request by regular mail, the bureaus have three business days to activate it.

You will also need to request a freeze at each of the three bureaus for it to be truly effective.

“This does not fix everything but does fix one problem,” said Francis Creighton, president and chief executive officer of Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade group representing the consumer reporting industry. “The idea of the freeze is to prevent someone from using your information to access new credit.”

‒ The Federal Trade Commission was charged with establishing a single webpage that includes a link to each credit bureau to make it easier for consumers to place a freeze.

‒ An initial fraud alert will now last for one year. Identity-theft victims will still be able to extend a fraud alert for seven years.

Your file can also be viewed by any person using the information in connection with getting insurance, or a background screening for housing or employment.

With so much of our data being stolen, having the ability to quickly freeze and unfreeze your files at no cost is a good step toward protecting your identity. But don’t be overly confident that your credit is so secure that you can’t still become a victim of identity theft. The threat is still out there.