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How to Lock Your Credit Report to Prevent Identity Theft 

Written by Allison Martin

Allison Martin is a personal finance enthusiast and a passionate entrepreneur. With over a decade of experience, Allison has made a name for herself as a syndicated financial writer. Her articles are published in leading publications, like Banks.com, Bankrate, The Wall Street Journal, MSN Money, and Investopedia. When she’s not busy creating content, Allison travels nationwide, sharing her knowledge and expertise in financial literacy and entrepreneurship through interactive workshops and programs. She also works as a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) dedicated to helping people from all walks of life achieve financial freedom and success.

Updated December 18, 2023​

6 min. read​

Credit reports hold a significant amount of information about your financial history, and keeping them secure is essential to protect your identity and financial well-being. One effective method to safeguard your credit report is to lock it. By doing so, you’re taking control of who has access to your credit information, which prevents identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name.

Read on to learn more about identity theft, the benefits of locking your credit report and detailed guidance on moving forward. 

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Protecting Yourself: Identity Theft in the U.S. 

If your identity is compromised, consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report. This notifies potential creditors to verify your identity before extending credit. A fraud alert lasts one year and can be renewed if necessary. To place a fraud alert, simply contact any of the three credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion or Equifax – and they’ll also inform the other two bureaus. By doing this, you also become eligible for a free copy of your credit report from each bureau.

Another strong layer of protection is a credit freeze. Freezing your credit prevents thieves from opening new accounts in your name, as a credit grantor will be unable to access your credit reports. To request a credit freeze, contact each credit bureau individually. In addition, credit bureaus must complete a freeze within 24 hours of receiving a phone request and lift it within an hour following another phone request. Remember, you’ll have to lift the freeze when you apply for credit yourself. 

Regularly monitoring your credit report is another way to be proactive about protecting your credit. Look for any suspicious activity or unauthorized accounts and report it to the credit bureaus immediately. Federal law gives you the right to a free credit report from each of the three bureaus – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax – weekly through the end of 2023. 

Most importantly, take the necessary steps to protect your personal information. Shred sensitive documents, secure your Social Security Number, and use strong, unique passwords for online accounts. Also, beware of phishing emails and unsolicited phone calls asking for personal details.

What is a Credit Report, and Why is it Important?

A credit report is a detailed summary of your credit history compiled by a credit bureau. It contains information on each of your credit accounts, public records such as bankruptcies and a list of credit inquiries. Your credit report plays a crucial role in determining your credit score, which is used by lenders, employers, landlords and insurance providers in some states to assess your creditworthiness.

Your credit report is important because it provides essential information to potential creditors to help them determine if you’re a good fit for funding and what terms to offer you. Insurance providers also use credit-based insurance scores (in states where this practice is allowed) to set premiums.

What Does It Mean to Lock Credit Reports?

Locking your credit reports is a proactive measure you can take to ward off fraudsters. A credit lock also gives you more control over your personal information by preventing new creditors from accessing your credit reports.

When you lock your credit reports, companies cannot view them before approving you for a new account. Current currents can still access your credit reports. And debt collectors with accounts in your name can also view your credit reports. However, fraudsters won’t be able to open accounts since other access to your credit report is restricted. This can help protect you against identity theft and unauthorized credit inquiries.

To lock your credit, contact each of the three major credit bureaus. The process of locking and unlocking your credit reports can usually be managed instantly, making it a convenient option for controlling access to your credit information.

It’s important to note that a credit lock and a credit freeze serve similar purposes by limiting access to your credit reports. While credit freezes are free, credit locks are often a part of paid subscriptions. Additionally, credit locks can be managed instantly, whereas lifting a security freeze could take a bit longer.

The Benefits of Locking Your Credit Report

Here are some reasons why locking your credit report is a smart move: 

Enhanced Security and Protection Against Identity Theft

Locking your credit report offers greater security and reduces the risk of identity theft by limiting who can access your credit file. When your credit report is locked, potential identity thieves cannot open new accounts in your name, providing you peace of mind regarding the security of your financial information.

Keeping Your Data Safe from Unauthorized Access

A credit lock helps ensure that only authorized individuals or entities have access to your credit report. When your credit report is locked, unauthorized access to your credit file is restricted, meaning your personal information remains confidential and secure.

Improved Privacy and Control of Your Personal Information

When you lock your credit report, you have more control over who can view your credit file. This means you have the power to decide who can access your personal information, leading to improved privacy for your financial data. By locking your credit report, you gain an additional layer of security when it comes to managing your personal information.

Ability to Easily Unlock and Lock Your Credit Report

One of the advantages of a credit lock is the ease with which you can lock and unlock your credit report as needed. Unlike a credit freeze, a credit lock can be conveniently managed online or through a mobile app, allowing you to quickly grant or restrict access to your credit file if you need to apply for a loan, credit card, or other forms of credit. This process is faster and more convenient than the alternatives, making a credit lock a preferred choice for many individuals looking to secure their financial information.

How to Lock Credit Report

Below are detailed instructions on locking your credit profile. 

Contacting the Three Major Credit Bureaus

To begin locking your credit report, you need to contact the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can do this by visiting their respective websites or calling their customer service lines.

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Creating Accounts and Setting Up Your Credit Report Lock

Once you’ve contacted the bureaus, you’ll need to create accounts and enroll in their credit lock services. Each bureau has its own process:

  • Experian: Enroll on Experian’s website. With Experian CreditLock, consumers can instantly lock and unlock their credit files and give access to lenders anytime they’re ready. Visit the website to learn more about Experian and its products. You can also sign up for a free account or get your credit score for free
  • Equifax: You can lock and unlock your credit report quickly using their smartphone app or computer.
  • TransUnion: TruIdentity, which is TransUnion’s credit lock program, is also accessible free of charge. You can lock and unlock your credit report using their smartphone app or computer.

Monitoring and Maintaining Your Locked Credit Report

After setting up your credit lock with the major credit reporting three agencies, it’s essential to monitor and maintain your locked credit report. Regularly check your credit reports for any discrepancies or suspicious activity, and update your personal information as needed.

Unlocking Your Credit Report When You Need It

When applying for credit or loans, you’ll need to unlock your credit report. This will allow potential creditors to access your information. Unlocking typically involves logging into your accounts with the respective credit bureaus and temporarily lifting your credit lock. Be prepared to provide your unique PIN or password for each bureau during this process.

Consider the Timing and Delays of Unlocks

Credit bureaus have different process times for unlocking credit reports:

  • Online or by phone: Agencies must lift the freeze within one hour.
  • By mail: Agencies must lift the freeze within three business days.

Keep these timeframes in mind when planning credit applications to ensure your report is accessible to potential creditors.

Bear in Mind Requests from Potential Creditors

When a potential creditor reaches out to you, they may ask you to lift the freeze on your credit report. Be prepared for this request and understand the process of unlocking your credit report with each of the three major bureaus. Remember that timing is crucial, as delayed unlocks can hinder your chances of obtaining credit or loans.

Alternatives to Protect Your Credit Report

If you’d prefer not to lock your credit report, here are some other ways to shield your information from fraudsters. 

Placing a Fraud Alert on Your Account

A fraud alert requires businesses to verify your identity before approving new credit accounts in your name. This extra step can help prevent identity theft and unauthorized use of your credit information. To place a fraud alert, simply contact one of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax), and they will notify the other two bureaus.

Freezing Your Credit Report

Another effective method for protecting your credit report is to freeze your credit. A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, prevents access to your credit file, making it difficult for identity thieves and fraudsters to open new accounts in your name. 

Regularly Monitoring Your Credit Report and Account Activity

Lastly, it’s important to monitor your credit report and account activity regularly. Make a habit of reviewing your credit report at least once a year to check for inaccuracies and potential signs of identity theft. You can request a free credit report from each of the major credit bureaus weekly through 2023.

Monitor Statement Activity 

In addition to monitoring your credit report, pay close attention to your bank and credit card statements. Look for any unfamiliar transactions and report any discrepancies to your financial institution immediately. By staying vigilant and proactive, you can help protect your credit report and ensure your financial well-being.

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