Considered the strongest tool in lessening the risk of identity theft, placing a security freeze on your credit file comes with even fewer caveats beginning Friday.

That's when a new federal law takes effect that requires all states allow for free freezes and unfreezes of one's credit report.

When you initiate a credit freeze, no one — even you — can gain access to your credit report.

"The process of getting a new credit card, leasing a car, buying a car — none of those things can happen without the lenders checking your credit first," said Paul Oster, president of Better Qualified, a credit repair and management company in Eatontown.

So if wannabe identity thieves can't get past a credit check, they can't open new accounts in your name.

Placing a security freeze on your credit report is already free in New Jersey, but a charge of up to $5 is possible for each time you wanted to temporarily unfreeze your account or lift the freeze for a specific creditor.

When the new law kicks in Friday, though, those fees must be scrapped nationwide.

Oster said if Americans actually used this route to foil identity theft, about 80 percent of such theft would probably be eliminated. Even following the massive Equifax data breach of 2017, he said, very few people took this step.

"At the very least, all consumers should place a fraud alert on their credit report," he said.

With a fraud alert, creditors must take extra steps to verify your identity before completing a request for credit. Fraud alerts currently last 90 days, but the new law extends that period to one year.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.