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Color of Money: Equifax breach gives us a deeper look into credit bureaus

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- If nothing else, the massive Equifax data breach should broaden our knowledge of how the credit bureau world works.

For example, until this cybercrime exposed 143 million consumers to identity theft, many people didn't realize they could freeze their credit file to block new lenders from seeing their credit reports if they suspected they had been victimized. This action helps prevent thieves from opening credit in someone else's name.

In response to the breach, Equifax is now offering a year of free credit monitoring through its identity-theft prevention service, TrustedID Premier. The service gives you the option to freeze or lock your credit file with Equifax, but note that it won't do the same for the other two major bureaus, Experian and TransUnion, or for the lesser-known Innovis.

What caught my attention was a note from Equifax that you can either lock or freeze your file, but you can't do both.

So what's the difference between the two?

The difference apparently comes down to the ease and speed with which you can open and close your credit file. The bureaus make locking sound like the better choice, but is it?

 

Although the freeze is separate, the bureaus have created a lock as part of a service package that includes credit monitoring and other things meant to prevent or detect identity theft. Frankly, I'm still confused at why there's a need for a lock. It's just one more thing for us to figure out about a system that is already pretty opaque.

Experian's "CreditLock" is a feature in its "CreditWorks" service, a monthly subscription product that offers credit monitoring and gives access to your FICO credit score online or on your mobile device.

In the description of its TrustedID credit lock service, Equifax says that requests from accountholders to lock or unlock a credit file are fulfilled within 24 to 48 hours.

TransUnion, meanwhile, offers a lock through its free "TrueIdentity" product, which also has its own app.

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