Freezes, Locks and Alerts: Know Your Options

Protecting yourself is top of mind following the recent Equifax data breach. Several options are available to you, including a security freeze (commonly known as a credit freeze), a fraud alert or Experian's CreditLock which is included with Experian IdentityWorksSM memberships.

Both Experian CreditLock and a security freeze prevent potential lenders from accessing your credit file. But there are important differences. Here's a primer:

Experian CreditLock:

  • Stops potential creditors from accessing your credit file
  • Provides daily monitoring and attempted inquiry alerts if you or someone else applies for credit while your credit file is locked
  • Allows you to block access to your credit report and you can lock or unlock your report easily, in real time — even from your mobile device
  • Is part of an Experian IdentityWorksSM membership, which comes with a number of additional features — including your Experian credit report and FICO® Score

Security Freeze:

  • Stops potential creditors from accessing your credit file
  • Can be "thawed" to allow specific creditors to review your credit information or provide them with a one-time access code
  • Requires that you enter a PIN code and verify your identity every time you want to change the status (freeze or thaw)
  • May require fees to freeze or thaw
  • Contact Experian to place, thaw or lift a security freeze

Fees and requirements for adding and removing a freeze vary by state; however, fees are waived for victims of identity theft with a valid investigative report. Security freezes also have to be initiated at each of the three major credit reporting agencies, and there may be a waiting period to unfreeze, so unfreeze at least three days before you apply for credit.

See also: 5 Steps to Take After a Data Breach

A fraud alert is a temporary, 90-day alert that is placed on your credit file. Also known as an initial security alert, a fraud alert will display on your credit file so that when a lender pulls your credit report, they will be alerted that you are potentially a victim of identity theft. That company can then take extra steps to validate your identity before opening a new account.

A fraud alert is free at all three credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Once you request a fraud alert at one company, your fraud alert will be automatically added to your credit file at each of the other companies. The fraud alert expires after 90 days, but can be renewed at the end of the 90-day period. (Click here for information about Extended Fraud Alerts.)

We recommend taking time to understand each option and choose what makes the most sense for your current situation. Knowledge and awareness are the best defenses against identity theft and fraud and each of these help you better protect yourself.