|What is it?
||A credit freeze is a federally mandated tool for limiting access to your credit file so no one, including you, can open new accounts until the freeze is lifted.
||A credit lock is a tool voluntarily offered as a convenience by each credit agency for limiting access to your credit file so no one, including you, can open new accounts until you unlock your credit file.
||A fraud alert allows creditors to get your credit report, but requires them to take extra steps to verify that it is really you requesting new credit, usually via a phone call.
|How does it work?
||You must place a freeze with EACH of the three credit reporting agencies. Freezes can be placed by phone, online or by mail. You’ll get a PIN to use each time you freeze or unfreeze, which may take an hour or up to three business days.
||You must place locks with EACH of the three credit reporting agencies. With locks, there’s no PIN and usually no wait to lock or unlock your credit file. You can lock and unlock on a computer or mobile device through an app.
||You contact any one of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) and they must then notify the other two. Then they will call (alert) you if to verify if you’re really trying to open a new account.
|How long does it last?
||A freeze lasts until you permanently remove it (except in a few states where freezes expire after seven years) but you can temporarily un-freeze and re-freeze at any time.
||Locks last only as long as you have an ongoing lock agreement with each of the credit reporting agencies.
||“Initial Alerts” last one year, “Extended Alerts” last seven years and require a police or identity theft report. To remove an alert you must contact EACH credit agency or let them expire.
|What does it cost?
||Free. As of 9/21/18 credit agencies are required by law to offer credit freezes and unfreezes free of charge.
||Varies by credit agency. As of September 2018 Equifax and TransUnion offer free credit locks while Experian bundles theirs with other identity theft protections for a variety of prices.
||Fraud alerts are required to be offered free of charge by all three credit agencies.