Credit reports are often used by lenders to determine if you should be lent to or not. However, credit reports contain sensitive information and can cause your identity to be stolen if they fall into the wrong hands. Credit locks and credit freezes are a way to combat credit report identity theft. Credit locks are a way to temporarily close access to your credit report to prevent security breaches, while credit freezes are used to freeze your account if you think your credit report has already been compromised.
In today’s world, much of our life is managed by technology. We bank, budget, and shop online every single day. With the emergence and growing popularity of credit cards and other online payment services such as PayPal and Venmo, the majority of our spending is virtual. This means that so too is all of our information. From our credit card information and bank account numbers to your phone number and address and even your social security number, basically, all of your personal information can be found somewhere online and is at risk of a data breach.
With all of our information online, hackers and scammers are constantly trying to get a hold of your personal information so they can spend your money or even worse, steal your identity. There are constant threats on you to get a hold of this information and you might not even know it! Chances are, you or someone you know has been an identity theft victim and may have lost some money as a result of it.
One such way scammers and hackers can get your information to steal your identity are through credit reports. Credit reports contain a great deal of sensitive information that you certainly would not want to fall into the hands of a criminal. A typical credit report can include your name, date of birth, address, your current job, your social security number, and even some information for your credit accounts. If a criminal were to get a hold of this, they would have everything they need to be able to open fake accounts under your name.
Thankfully, there are measures to prevent and to counteract getting your credit report information stolen. These are called credit locks and credit freezes. Both of these attempt to help you prevent scammers from opening credit and loan accounts with your information. While similar, the two have important differences. Let’s take a deep dive into credit freezes and credit locks.
A credit freeze is when you freeze your account so that no one can open or access your account. The only way one can access the credit account and your credit reports when it is frozen is if someone has the password to that protected account or they have the PIN number to that account. This way, no one can have access to the account until it is unfrozen or “thawed” out. Essentially, you are telling the main credit agency that you do not want your credit information released to anybody without your permission. Likewise, credit freezing your account tells the credit reporting agency that you do not want a lender to open any accounts for the time being.
If a scammer has your information from your credit report, they could use it to open a car loan or credit accounts. From here, they could gain a sum of money and spend it as they see fit. They would technically have no obligation to pay back the money because the loan or line of credit was opened under your name and using your information. Keep in mind that if a scammer has breached your credit report and has a hold of your information, a credit freeze may stop them from opening accounts but it will not stop them from using that information in other ways. A credit freeze is not all-encompassing protection from fraud.
Credit freezes are much more federally regulated than credit locking. Actually, credit locks do not exactly have much federal backing at all. This is both a positive and a negative for credit freezes. On the good side, credit freezes are federally required to be provided by the three main credit bureaus for free. This means that if you feel your account is ever in trouble or has been compromised, you can guarantee that you can freeze your account at no charge. On the other hand, the fact that credit freezes are so regulated can mean that the process of freezing and unfreezing can be a huge headache. This is something that credit locks do not necessarily have to deal with.
Compared to a credit lock, the main instance to use a credit freeze is when you believe your account has already been compromised. If you think this is the case, a credit freeze is your best bet for restoring security to your account. While the information that was stolen likely cannot be recovered once it has been breached, a credit freeze will prevent any new loan or credit accounts from being opened.
Here’s how the credit freeze works in your favor if your information has been compromised. When your credit report information has been compromised, the scammer may try to open accounts in your name. In almost every instance except for a no credit check loan, a potential lender will want to check things like your credit score and your credit report to see if they should lend to you or not. If your account is frozen, they will not be able to see this information. If they cannot see this information, they will almost certainly deny the loan or line of credit application that the scammer has made. Because of the freeze, no accounts will be approved and opened in your name and as a result, you should not lose any money.
While you can use a free credit freeze as a preventative measure, the headache that it takes to freeze and unfreeze your account makes it not worth it to use it in this way. Let’s look more into the drawbacks of credit freezes.
Before we go into the drawbacks of credit freezes, it is important to clarify that if you think your account is compromised, you 100% should freeze your account. It is the practice that is the best for securing your account and is recommended by all major credit bureaus. The drawbacks with credit freezes are mostly relevant when looking to prevent your account from being breached.
Again, the biggest drawback with credit freezes is the process it takes to freeze and unfreeze your account. When looking to do a credit freeze, you will need to provide a bunch of information to the credit bureaus, which needless to say can be a painstaking process. You will need to provide things such as identification, your social security number, and possibly some bills and other information as well.
With this slow process of unfreezing your account, you will likely not be able to get quick loans like payday loans or instant cash loans. This is because it takes some time to unfreeze your account, as we mentioned. This can mean that if you really need money quickly, a credit freeze can actually prevent you from getting the money you need.
Like we mentioned before, credit freezes are federally mandated to be free of charge. You can get a credit freeze at any time with any of the three credit bureaus, free of charge. That’s it! It's as simple as that.
A credit lock is similar to a credit freeze. It can be used to protect your account if your information has been compromised. However, it varies in two distinct categories. First, a credit lock is much more temporary than a credit freeze. This means that you can lock it and unlock it much faster than a credit freeze. Second, credit locks are not federally regulated. This means that they are offered by third parties and do not have the same restrictions or benefits as a credit freeze.
A credit lock is just what it sounds like. It is a tool that allows you to lock and unlock access to your credit account as you see fit. If your account is locked and you want to view your credit score or allow a lender to view your credit report, you simply unlock your credit lock and you can have access to your account as normal. If you want to lock your account right after, you can do so. Just like a credit freeze, if you think that a scammer might have access to your account, you can lock the account just like a credit freeze but can unlock it much faster if need be.
This ability to easily lock your account and unlock it as you see fit is why it is a better preventative measure than a credit freeze. Both do the same thing but your credit account can be accessed much faster if you have a lock instead of a freeze, so locking your account comes with no cost (but it may cost some money). Unlike a credit freeze, if you need to access your account as soon as possible, you can do so much faster and much painlessly.
This way, you can have the security of a credit freeze but can have the flexibility that you need if you need to quickly open a credit card or get a loan.
While credit locks may seem better, they are not federally regulated. This comes with some drawbacks that we will discuss in greater detail later. Put shortly, credit locks are not backed by the law and are either provided by credit bureaus or by third parties. This means that there can be security issues when giving third party access to your account. Likewise, there is no regulation that requires them to be free, so companies can charge you anything they want to have access to credit locks.
As mentioned earlier, credit locks and credit freezes essentially serve the same purpose. They can both be used to prevent access to your credit account. This means no one can see your credit score and credit reports and thus no lender will approve you for any loans or lines of credit that a scammer might be trying to open.
However, credit locks differ from credit freezes in that they are much better for preventative measures. If you have been a victim of identity fraud before or just want to make sure your account is safe, a credit lock is your best bet. While a credit freeze can do the task as well, a credit lock can be removed basically instantly. If you used credit freezes to prevent fraud, you would need to unfreeze your account every single time someone needed access, which would be a massive headache. With a credit lock, all you need to do is unlock your account online or on your phone, which can take less than a minute.
The key drawback of credit locks is that they are not federally regulated. While this allows them much more flexibility than credit freezes, it also offers less protection and means that a credit lock can cost you.
In being federally regulated, credit freezes are extremely safe and are the most surefire way to make sure that your account is secure in the case of a data breach. Federal regulations require that the three credit bureaus, who are very trustworthy themselves, give credit freezes. This means there is little to worry about in terms of security. However, credit locks have no such regulation. This means that the credit bureaus and third parties that offer them do not need to follow the same rules that must be followed with credit freezes. While a major credit bureau will offer its own credit lock service, third parties may offer locking services that are cheaper or more attractive. These third-party companies are not necessarily as safe and you could accidentally be giving your account information to another scammer which would seriously put you in trouble.
Lastly, the lack of regulation means that the government cannot require these companies that offer credit locks to make them free. Because credit locks are arguably more favorable than credit freezes, companies might charge you some dough for it. If you are tight on cash, this may be a problem for you. You might have to choose between the security of your account and some additional money, which is not a problem that credit freezes have.