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That's because younger consumers tend to frequently apply for credit cards, mortgages and new jobs, while senior citizens have less need for credit but more reason to be cautious."As people get older, it's been shown that the time necessary to recover from identity theft tends to go up," Stephens says.

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With a credit freeze in place, lenders and other companies cannot view the borrower's credit.

As a result, freezes prevent the consumer from gaining access to new loans, such as credit cards and mortgages, but they also keep fraudsters from opening new accounts in that person's name.

"There really is no uniformity in terms of the costs and time frames for both placing and lifting credit freezes.

You do find a tremendous difference from state to state," Stephens says.

These freezes can subsequently be lifted temporarily or permanently by consumers, sometimes also for a price.

However, in many states, you can avoid paying any fees at all by providing proof – a police report, for example – that you've already been a victim of fraud.

Credit freezes can be a great tool for protecting yourself against identity theft, but they're not for everyone.

If, for example, you suspect that you might be an ID theft target because of a data breach at a company where you use your card, setting a temporary fraud alert with the credit bureaus is a simpler and no-cost alternative.

People involved in nasty divorces may also want to consider freezing their credit, since their spouse may have all the information (name, Social Security number, etc.) needed to open new accounts in their identity, says Stephens.

One credit freeze does not fit all Unfortunately, the steps required to freeze credit aren't always clear.

Twenty states require victims to provide a police report to qualify for a free freeze. Since it's necessary to line up freezes with all three major credit reporting bureaus – Experian, Equifax and Trans Union – for complete protection, the cost for a freeze needs to be multiplied by three.