In the wake of the major Equifax data breach, a new law went into place on September 21, 2018, that made credit freezes completely free to consumers. Since then, the credit bureaus have come up with their own version of a credit freeze which they are referring to as a credit lock. But are they the same thing? Credit freezes and credit locks are similar but they are not synonymous.
Both credit freezes and credit locks are beneficial tools for consumers to use. One of the main benefits that they both provide to consumers is the ability to prevent their credit information from being accessed which helps to prevent criminals from opening fraudulent accounts in your name.
A credit lock is a proprietary service which some of the credit bureaus have come up with that makes it more convenient for consumers to pause and activate their credit profiles. Basically, a credit lock is an agreement between you and the credit bureau that they will temporarily lock your credit profile and then, whenever you’re ready, you can easily unlock it again with the click of a button. A credit lock is a service that is sold to you and provided by the credit bureau.
A credit lock can be alluring to consumers because it’s much less time consuming to put in place than is a traditional credit freeze request, but what are the downfalls? Well, for starters, only two of the three major credit bureaus are offering credit lock products. That leaves you exposed on one end, like locking your front door but forgetting to lock the back door. And, more than that, a credit lock product is only an agreement with a credit bureau and is not backed or regulated by a law to the same extent that a credit freeze is.
A credit freeze on the other hand is regulated by law. This means that there are stringent legal protections that are designed to protect consumers. If, by chance, you have your credit account fraudulently accessed after you have requested a credit freeze, the consumer is absolved of any financial liability because they are covered by Federal law.
When it comes to the protection of your identity, the wiser choice would be to freeze your credit when you don’t expect to open any new accounts or to make purchases with borrowed money. Now that you know the difference between a credit freeze and a credit lock, it’s clear that choosing to freeze your credit is the wiser choice since it offers you more legal protection.
Industry experts agree, due to the volume of data breaches in the United States over the past decade – including data breaches at major credit bureaus – it is reasonable to assume every US citizen’s vital personal information has been lost. Moreover, it is likely that the majority of victims are enrolled in one or more credit monitoring services that only alert them to fraudulent activity after the fact.
“Many consumers erroneously believe that credit monitoring services will protect them from identity thieves. In truth, the most you can hope for is that credit monitoring services will alert you soon after an ID thief does steal your identity”. (Krebs on Security 2018)
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*Extended families – primary individual, their spouse/partner, both sets of parents (including those that have been deceased for up to a year), and all children under the age of 25