BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - One of the fastest-growing financial crimes in the country is identity theft. One countermeasure is to freeze your credit file to keep thieves from establishing credit in your name, said a University of Missouri Extension family financial education specialist.

"With a security freeze on your credit file, creditors and lenders are denied access and the application for credit will likely be denied," said Carole Bozworth. "That is a good thing if the applicant is actually an imposter applying for credit in your name."

When you apply for credit, the creditor typically requests your credit file or score from one of the three national consumer reporting agencies-Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. A security freeze is only effective if activated at all three agencies.

You can temporarily lift the freeze for such purposes as taking out a loan or undergoing a background check by a prospective employer or landlord. Lifting the freeze can take up to three business days, Bozworth said.

In Missouri, agencies charge $5 to place the freeze and an additional $5 each time you temporarily lift the freeze. The agencies will waive these charges if you can document that you have been a victim of identity theft in the past.

If you are married, both you and your spouse will need to freeze your credit files to fully protect your household.

"One disadvantage is that a security freeze will not prevent access by any company with which you already have an account or business relationship," Bozworth said. "A security freeze will not prevent fraud involving already existing bank or credit accounts."

Placing a security freeze on your credit file is not the solution to prevent identity theft for everyone.

"Evaluate your specific circumstances to determine if it is a protection option that might work for you," Bozworth said. "If you decide to proceed, contact each of the credit reporting agencies to get state-specific instructions for enacting a security freeze on your credit file."

For more information about identity theft, see