A credit lock is a preventive measure to protect your credit report and personal data from unauthorized access, such as from someone opening a new account in your name. It does not affect your credit score nor does it prevent you from accessing your free annual credit report.
This is usually activated or lifted using an app on your smartphone. It is instantaneous and convenient but may come with a fee.
Both credit locks and credit freezes serve to protect your credit report from scammers and identity theft. Often times, these two terms are used interchangeably, but while they offer similar protections, they have a few key differences:
Essentially, a credit lock is a contractual agreement between you and the credit reporting agency. Be sure to read your service agreement with each bureau. Some terms of service include an arbitration clause that prevents you from suing or joining a class action lawsuit.
A credit freeze is governed by federal law and as a result, comes with legal protections. For example, according to Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, with a credit freeze, if something goes wrong, such as an account is fraudulently accessed, consumers are protected from any liability. Unfortunately, with a credit lock, it’s not clear who would be liable for the losses.
A lock activation and/or lift are instantaneous when requested on your smartphone.
On the other hand, under the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protect Act, once a consumer requests to lift his credit freeze via phone or online, the bureau must lift the freeze within one hour. If the consumer requests by mail, the credit bureau must execute the application within three business days.
Credit locks are free at TransUnion and Equifax. However, Experian charges $4.99 for the first month and then $24.99 after that. You must purchase the Experian CreditWorks Premium service, which includes Experian CreditLock, among other benefits. Currently, there is no stand-alone lock service available from Experian.
Under the law, credit freezes are free at each of the three major credit bureaus.
Since it can be accessed from your smartphone app, you may activate a credit lock or lift it instantly.
Unfortunately, a credit freeze is a bit more labor intensive. When you make your account, you will set a personalized password or PIN. Unfreezing your report, also known as thawing, requires the input of your password or PIN every time.
If you think your personal data has been compromised or exposed, you should consider a freeze.
A lock is more of a preventative measure to secure your credit report and personal data before an incident.
You can lock your credit by signing up at each credit bureau’s website. Equifax’s free credit lock service is called Lock & Alert, and TransUnion’s is called TrueIdentity. Finally, Experian’s CreditLock is included in Experian Credit Works Premium.