I was recently made aware that my information was stolen during the Equifax breach in July 2017. I have signed up for the credit protection program that Equifax is offering. One of the benefits is a credit lock on my Equifax report. Is a credit lock a same as the credit freeze? If not, can you tell me the difference?
Over one million people have been impacted by the Equifax breach. If you are one of those people affected, I strongly recommend that you investigate either a credit report lock or a credit report freeze. A credit report lock and a credit report freeze are two similar products. You cannot have a freeze and lock on your reports simultaneously. The main purpose of the lock and freeze is to prevent third parties from having access to your credit report without your consent. They do have some differences as well.
A credit freeze is a tool that will block anyone from opening new credit accounts in your name. It is considered the most effective way to avoid identity thieves from opening accounts. There is a charge in most states to apply a freeze and remove it. It must be done with all three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. When you apply for a credit report freeze, you are issued a PIN number. You will need this number to remove or “thaw” the freeze in order to obtain credit. It often takes 48 hours for a freeze to be removed, and you must remember to replace the freeze. A credit report freeze will not allow you to obtain instant credit as you do need to remove it in order to have potential creditors verify your credit information. One of the greatest benefits of the credit freeze is that you are covered by state law. If accounts are fraudulently opened in your name, you will be protected from financial liability.
Like a credit freeze, the credit lock will prevent criminals from opening fraudulent accounts in your name. The main difference is that it is not state regulated, so you do not have the same consumer protections. Like the freeze, you need to have the lock placed with all three bureaus. Credit locking often comes as part of a credit monitoring service, which may have a monthly fee. If you do not apply for credit often, you may find the monthly fee to be more expensive than removing and adding the freeze. Two of the credit bureaus have established instantaneous credit locks. This avoids any delay in receiving instant credit offers. The third agency still requires 24 to 48 hours to remove a credit lock.
Both the lock and the freeze are effective tools to combat identity theft. There are pros and cons to both. The greatest benefit of the credit report freeze is the state law protection. The convenience of being able to instantaneously remove the credit lock makes it desirable.
Please make sure that you are accessing your credit reports from annualcreditreport.com at least once per year. You are eligible for a free copy of your report from Equifax, Experian and Trans Union once per year. Neither the lock nor the freeze will prevent you from viewing your own reports. Reviewing your credit reports on an annual basis is a great way to ensure that your identity is not being used to obtain credit.