Security · September 01, 2020

Alerts, Freezes and Locks: 3 Protections to Help You Prevent Fraud

One of the easiest ways to protect your credit and prevent identity theft is to keep fraudsters from accessing your credit in the first place. Alerts, locks and freezes—all available directly from each credit bureau—can help keep your credit history private and your financial identity safe. Knowing how each function works will help you make an informed choice about which to activate.


1 Fraud alerts

Fraud alerts let you know if someone's trying to take out credit in your name. It also lets a potential new creditor know that they should take the additional step to verify your identity before issuing credit.

Any consumer can place a temporary fraud alert on their credit file. These alerts must be renewed between every 90 days and one year, depending on the credit bureau.

Previous victims of identity theft can place an extended fraud alert on their credit reports. To activate, you need to submit a copy of a police report or other record of identity theft. Extended fraud alerts stay active for 7 years.

For active-duty military personnel, there's a unique kind of fraud alert available. Designed to protect servicemembers who are deployed or not readily available to confirm their identity, those seeking this alert must submit a copy of their orders to activate it.

You only need to contact one of the credit bureaus for your fraud alert to be active on all three. However, to remove a fraud alert, you'll need to contact each bureau individually.

2 Credit freezes

If you're looking to protect your credit beyond fraud alerts, you might want to consider activating a freeze on your credit files.

Consumers usually learn their credit is compromised after the fact. A freeze can be especially powerful because it helps prevent fraud at the source. When someone applies for credit using your information, creditors will get a notice that your file is frozen. This prevents a new account from being opened in your name.

To place a freeze on your credit file, contact each of the three bureaus. There are no fees to freeze or unfreeze your file. To lift the freeze, use a PIN assigned to you to unfreeze your report. When applying for credit, like with a mortgage or car loan, you can lift your freeze long enough for creditors to access your credit. You can then immediately reactivate the freeze after the purchase is complete.

Freezes remain valid until you lift them, with no time limit or expiration date.

3 Credit locks

For more control and convenience, consider a credit lock. Credit locks allow you to access your credit files instantly via an app or online service, avoiding the 24-hour turnaround time with a freeze.

A credit lock is usually an additional product you purchase from a single credit bureau or an identity theft protection company. Whereas credit freezes are free of charge, some credit lock services come with monthly subscription fees.

Credit locks are best for those who want an added layer of peace of mind. It's important to note, however, that there's little reason to have both a credit freeze and a credit lock in place. Unlike credit freezes, locks aren't governed by law, so you may not have recourse from creditors if they issue new credit in your name while a lock is in place.

Choosing what's right for you

The best option for you to protect your credit depends on your situation and needs—all three of these methods are reliable and secure. Whichever step you choose, remember to activate credit freezes or locks at all three bureaus for the most protection.

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This information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice. First Citizens Bank (or its affiliates) neither endorses nor guarantees this information, and encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation.