Checking your credit report consistently for fraudulent activity may not be enough to protect your personal information and thus your credit score. What will help are three tools that are common in the credit world: fraud alerts, security freezes and credit locks.
This is a free alert you can place with one of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Once the alert is placed with one bureau, it will pass on to the other two.
A fraud alert is a notice put on your credit report, warning prospective lenders that you’re the victim of identity theft. Lenders who see this warning should take extra steps to verify your identity before giving credit to someone claiming to be you. For example, a bank may try to contact you in various ways to verify your identity before approving you for new credit.
An initial fraud alert lasts for 90 days. It can be renewed for another 90 days after the first alert expires. It can also be extended for seven years if you’ve been the victim of identity theft.
Also called a security freeze, a credit freeze is an extra step beyond a fraud alert that can offer more protection. It can cost $2 to $12 to start, lift or remove a credit freeze, though most states require it to be free for identity theft victims.
A credit freeze does what the name implies—it “freezes” or locks access to a credit file against anyone trying to open a new account or get new credit in the person’s name. It’s more severe than a fraud alert. If you think your information or credit cards have been stolen and you’re at high risk of fraud, a credit freeze may be worthwhile.
But that protection comes with a price. It also shuts out companies that you may want to do business with, such as lenders, insurers and cellular service providers that may want to check your credit report. To get around that, you have to temporarily lift the freeze with a PIN and set a date for the freeze to be reinstated automatically.
A credit lock is similar to a credit freeze and should be easier to use. It’s offered by a credit reporting company and allows users to lock and unlock the account online easily instead of having to verify their identity each time a lift or security freeze is done.
Credit locks usually require an annual fee, typically around $60. A credit lock lasts for as long as you pay the annual fee. The lock only works for the credit reporting company that you start it with. Credit locks must be initiated with each company if you want all of your information to be locked.