Fraud Alert, Security Freeze, and Credit Report Lock

When it comes to your credit, you may hear terms like “fraud alert,” “security freeze,” and “credit report lock.” While each one is designed to help you better protect your personal information, they do so in different ways. Here’s a closer look at each.

 

What is a Fraud Alert?

A fraud alert is a notice that is placed on your credit report that alerts credit card companies and others who may extend you credit that you may have been a victim of fraud, including identity theft. Think of it as a “red flag” that makes companies take steps to verify your identity before extending credit in your name.

You may contact any of the three nationwide credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- to request a fraud alert. Once you place an alert with one of the bureaus, that bureau will send your request to the other two bureaus.

Fraud alerts can be placed on your credit reports for free, and there are two different types:

  • An initial (one-year) fraud alert can be placed if you believe you are or may become a victim of fraud or identity theft. The fraud alert lasts for one year. If you want to keep it active on your credit report, you'll need to renew it after that time. When you or someone else attempts to open an account in your name or make changes on an existing account, such as increasing the credit limit, the company must take reasonable steps to confirm you are who you say you are, such as contacting you by phone at a number you provide, before completing the request.

An initial fraud alert also allows you to request a free copy of your credit report each year from the three nationwide credit bureaus, in addition to the one free copy from each credit bureau you're entitled to under the Fair Credit Reporting Act

  • An extended fraud alert can be placed if you are a victim of fraud or identity theft. It requires a copy of a valid police or law enforcement agency report, or a Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Report. An extended fraud alert is similar to an initial fraud alert, but lasts for 7 years. With an extended fraud alert, a lender or creditor is required to verify your identity in person or by phone at a number you provide before opening new accounts or making changes to existing accounts.

If you have an extended fraud alert on your credit reports, you are allowed to request two free credit reports  each year from the three nationwide credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). In addition, your name is removed from prescreened credit card or insurance offers for 5 years.

If you are on active military duty and want to help minimize your risk of fraud or identity theft while you are deployed, an active duty alert is available to you.  The active duty alert is similar to an initial fraud alert: companies must take reasonable steps to verify your identity before opening new accounts in your name or modifying existing ones. An active duty alert lasts for 12 months and your name is removed from pre-screened credit card or insurance offers for 2 years.

 

 

How Do I Place a Fraud Alert?

If you’d like to place an initial one-year fraud alert or an active duty alert on your Equifax credit report, you can do so online by creating a myEquifaxTM account.  You can also call Equifax at (800) 525-6285 or send a request by mail. Download this form for instructions and mailing address. 

To request an extended fraud alert, you’ll need to download a copy of the Equifax Extended Fraud Alert Request Form. Fill out the form and follow the instructions to mail it to Equifax along with any required documents.

 

What is a Security Freeze?

A security freeze, also known as a credit freeze, is a tool that can help prevent unauthorized access to your credit reports. Freezes are federally regulated. Once a freeze is placed on one of your credit reports, it prevents access to it by certain third parties, like lenders and creditors you’re requesting new credit from. 

This means if you’re applying for credit – buying a car or requesting a loan, for instance – you’ll need to temporarily lift or permanently remove your security freeze to allow a credit check. 

Security freezes must be placed on your credit report separately at each nationwide credit bureau (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Placing, lifting, and removing a security freeze is free.

Placing a security freeze on your Equifax credit report will prevent access to it by certain third parties. Freezing your Equifax credit report will not prevent access to your credit report at any other credit reporting agency. Entities that may still have access to your Equifax credit report include:

  • Companies like Equifax Global Consumer Solutions, which provide you with access to your credit report or credit score, or monitor your credit report as part of a subscription or similar service;
  • Companies that provide you with a copy of your credit report or credit score, upon your request;
  • Federal, state and local government agencies and courts in certain circumstances;
  • Companies using the information in connection with the underwriting of insurance, or for employment, tenant or background screening purposes;
  • Companies that have a current account or relationship with you, and collection agencies acting on behalf of those whom you owe;
  • Companies that authenticate a consumer's identity for purposes other than granting credit, or for investigating or preventing actual or potential fraud; and
  • Companies that wish to make pre-approved offers of credit or insurance to you. To opt out of such pre-approved offers, visit www.optoutprescreen.com.

 

How Do I Place a Security Freeze on My Credit Reports?

You can place a security freeze on your Equifax credit report online by creating a myEquifax account.

To place a freeze by phone, you can also call our automated line at (800) 685-1111. In addition, you can place a freeze by mail by downloading this form, which contains instructions and mailing address.

When you place a freeze, you will receive a 10-digit personal identification number (PIN). This PIN will be needed to temporarily lift or permanently remove a security freeze by phone or mail. A PIN is no longer required for online security freeze transactions.

If you don’t have your PIN or need to replace it, you have two options:

You can visit myEquifax to create an account and temporarily lift or permanently remove your security freeze without your PIN; or

You can submit a request for a new PIN in writing. Please provide proof of identification, such as a copy of your driver's license, birth certificate or other documents. Learn more about which documents are accepted.

To place, temporarily lift, or permanently remove a security freeze on your Experian or TransUnion credit report, you will need to contact them directly.

Experian: www.experian.com/freeze
TransUnion: www.freeze.transunion.com    

 

What is a Credit Report Lock?

A credit report lock or credit lock has the same impact on your credit report as a security freeze, but isn’t exactly the same. Credit report locks are mobile app-enabled and allow you to lock and unlock your credit reports using identity verification techniques such as usernames, passwords, and Touch ID or Face ID technology. You must lock your credit report separately at each nationwide credit bureau (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).

A credit report lock generally prevents access to your credit reports to open new credit accounts. If you want to apply for credit, you must unlock your credit report to allow a credit check.

There are exceptions on who can still access your credit report if it’s locked, much like a security freeze. Those may include:

  • Companies like Equifax Global Consumer Solutions, which provide you with access to your credit report or credit score, or monitor your credit report as part of a subscription or similar service;
  • Companies that provide you with a copy of your credit report or credit score, upon your request;
  • Federal, state and local government agencies and courts in certain circumstances;
  • Companies using the information in connection with the underwriting of insurance, or for employment, tenant or background screening purposes;
  • Companies that have a current account or relationship with you, and collection agencies acting on behalf of those whom you owe;
  • Companies that authenticate a consumer's identity for purposes other than granting credit, or for investigating or preventing actual or potential fraud; and
  • Companies that wish to make pre-approved offers of credit or insurance to you. To opt out of such pre-approved offers, visit www.optoutprescreen.com.

You can contact the three nationwide credit bureaus to find out what options may be available to lock your credit reports.