You’ve probably heard by now that Equifax made a boo-boo last year.
A data breach at the credit reporting agency leaked the personal information of approximately 145 million people, putting their credit and identities in danger.
And we recently learned that the breach may have been even worse than we thought.
So, what did most of us do? Nothing.
But what if you could lock your credit in minutes using an app?
How Equifax’s New Lock & Alert App Works
In late January, Equifax rolled out a new app called Lock & Alert that allows users to lock their Equifax credit reports. By locking your credit report, you block everyone, including yourself, from making changes to your file.
The concept is simple enough: Download the app for free, put in your information — yes, it does require your Social Security number — and enter the numerical pass code Equifax sends you.
Once you enter that, a large button that you can swipe left and right shows up on the app.
Swipe the button right, and your credit report is locked. Keep in mind, this locks only your Equifax credit report, so you still need to lock it at the other two bureaus.
I tried the app and it worked fairly well for me, but not everyone has had such a good experience using the Lock & Alert app.
When you want to unlock your credit so you can apply for a new credit card or loan, or allow a prospective landlord to see your credit, you can open the app and swipe the button left.
Credit Lock vs. Credit Freeze
So what’s the difference between a credit lock and a credit freeze? Both are ways to protect your credit from anyone opening new accounts in your name or doing anything that can affect your score, but they’re not the same.
According to Steve Weisman, an expert on scams and identity theft, they are also not equal.
“Credit freezes are governed by laws that protect you, while credit locks are creations of the credit reporting agencies pursuant to contracts which they can change at will,” he said.
What’s more, you may end up paying even more for the credit lock than you would for a credit freeze. Why? Because it comes as part of a package of services, many of which you may not need.
Should You Lock Your Credit With the App?
No and yes. You can’t do both a credit freeze and a credit lock. You’ll have to choose.
“Quite frankly, I don’t trust any of the credit reporting agencies to have our best interest as their primary motivation,” Weisman said. “So I believe you are better off choosing to put a credit freeze on your credit reports at each of the three major credit reporting agencies rather than a credit lock.”
I asked Weisman if a credit lock is better than doing nothing.
“Yes. While there have been some problems with their apps, it definitely is better to lock your credit with the app than to do nothing and leave yourself vulnerable.”
So, the short answer is to get off your butt and freeze your credit. Let’s face it: Your personal information is probably out in the open thanks to all of the breaches and leaks.
It may take a few minutes and cost a few bucks, but freezing your credit is the safest way to protect your hard-earned credit score. If you move fast, you can freeze it at Equifax for free.
What are you waiting for?
Tyler Omoth is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder who loves soaking up the sun and finding creative ways to help others. Catch him on Twitter at @Tyomoth.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
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