The idea of freezing credit is one that many consumers haven’t heard of, but it can be an extremely useful way to manage a credit rating and credit score. (If you don’t know your credit score, here is an easy, free way to find out what it is.) With credit freezing, credit agencies can limit or restrict credit activity on a person’s profile. This can be helpful if someone wants more stability and predictability about what goes on in the credit account. Here is what experts are recommending to individuals and families about using credit-freezing strategies.

Use a Credit Freeze to Stop Identity Theft

One of the biggest reasons for freezing credit is to prevent identity theft. When a person feels vulnerable to identity theft, for example, when a wallet or purse is lost or financial paperwork is misplaced, a credit freeze makes it harder for an identity thief to operate. If thieves get access to personal information, they can set up dummy accounts or hack into the credit profile using the Social Security number, financial account numbers and other identifiers. Then they start credit activity in that other person’s name.

This can be extremely damaging to people whose identities have been stolen. They may not find out about it until there is legal action, and they may feel powerless to confront the identity thieves. A credit freeze can put a stop to this illegal activity.

Use a Credit Freeze When Investigating Fraudulent Activity

Credit freezing can also be useful when there is suspicious activity on a credit account. A credit freeze makes sure that nothing else happens while the affected person investigates fraudulent credit information on the credit reports.

Use a Credit Freeze to Protect Seniors

Lots of experts recommend credit freezes for elderly Americans. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, seniors are often vulnerable to credit fraud. It’s not only identity theft; lots of criminals target seniors in many different ways. They may interact with them in commercial transactions, in nursing homes, or in other situations and get privileged information. They may try to influence an elderly person’s financial decisions. Credit freezing can make an elderly person’s credit account more secure and deter some kinds of credit fraud.

The other reason why credit freezing is so useful for seniors is that they do not usually have a lot of credit activity going on. Professionals may not recommend credit freezes for younger consumers if they are in the process of getting mortgages, taking out loans or lines of credit, or even during routine things like changing cell phone service. The reason is that, while credit freezes restrict illegitimate activity, they also restrict normal credit activity. For seniors who don’t have many credit needs, credit freezes can be a very common-sense way of protecting finances. This guide from CNBC goes into more detail about credit freezes for seniors.

Use a Credit Freeze Instead of Credit Monitoring

Another good way to use a credit freeze is to lock down a credit account for the long term. Even younger people may go through a dormant phase in terms of legitimate credit activity. They can freeze their accounts to make sure that nothing happens while they’re not looking at their credit scores. Experts point out that credit report monitoring is another alternative, but it’s generally more costly than credit freezing and may take more work.

Freezing a credit rating involves contacting each of the three credit agencies. Each agency has its own rules: Equifax provides a web form on its site, while Experian and Transunion require a phone call and/or paperwork. Typically, there are fees of around $10 for each agency, depending on the applicant’s state of residence.. This is an initial investment, but after that, there are no additional costs. Depending on the circumstances, freezing credit may prevent fraud and make financial management easier.