Published: Sep 17, 2012 6:07 PM EDT
Updated: Sep 17, 2012 6:40 PM EDT

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Identity theft is a booming business so what can you do to protect yourself? We take a look at something called a credit freeze to see if it's worth the extra cost.

When Florida Gulf Coast University marketing and advertising professor Doctor Ludmilla Wells tried to file her taxes, she got a surprising message.

"They went through the records at Turbo Tax and said, yes it's showing up that someone had already filed your taxes for you," Ludmilla recalled.

Using her name and social security number, someone else ran off with her tax refund.

Tax return identity theft happens so often now that it's hard to track. We contacted the IRS and they told us about 1.3 million tax returns were related to identity theft in 2011. So now, long before the next tax season is the time to consider doing something to protect yourself.

For Dr. Wells, she was told to notify the three credit reporting agencies and get a credit freeze.

A credit freeze is something all three credit monitoring bureaus (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian)  offer for identity theft victims for free. But even if you're not a victim, you can pay for the service.

Once that freeze is on your account, no one can open up a line of credit or check your credit history, without you knowing about it and authorizing it first. The downside? It takes some time to unfreeze your account if you want a line of credit, a mortgage, insurance, or even if you want a new job and they do a credit check.

If you're not a victim of identity theft, it's going to cost you each time you freeze, temporarily lift that freeze and permanently unfreeze your account, and each credit agency has their own fees for each of those steps, so it can get costly.

If you're interested in learning more about a credit freeze, we have links to all three credit sites. All the fees associated with the service is also listed on the websites.


Equifax

Experian

Transunion


But remember, a lot of people look at your credit, not just bankers or credit card companies. If you're signing up for utilities, rental housing, insurance, or even some government services, they could all be compromised or delayed if you have a freeze on your account.