Credit card locks and credit freezes are security features that can be used to help protect you from fraud and identity theft. But even though they sound similar, they perform very different functions when keeping you safe.

The key difference: credit card locks help protect your credit card from fraud, while credit freezes help protect your credit report from identity theft. It’s important to understand how both work so you know the best way to protect yourself.

What Is a Credit Card Lock?

Credit card locks offer a way to “turn off” your card so it can’t be used by anyone. The idea is that if you misplace a card, you can lock it to prevent fraudulent charges until you are able to locate it.

When you find your card, you can unlock it without having to contact your card issuer.

While you generally aren’t liable for fraudulent credit card charges, locking a card can help reduce hassle later by removing the need to report unauthorized transactions. And if you misplaced a card and you’re likely to find it later, you can avoid having to replace your card and updating your payment information for all your accounts.

When you lock your card, new transactions and cash advances won’t go through. But recurring autopayments, such as subscriptions and monthly bills, will continue to be charged to your account. Fees, returns, credits, and interest will also function as normal.

How to Lock Your Credit Card

To initiate a lock or unlock your card, you need to use your card issuer’s mobile app or log in to your online account.

When Should You Lock Your Credit Card?

You should lock your card when it’s misplaced to ensure no one can use it while you look for it. This can help you avoid replacing your card if you believe you’ll find it soon. You may also want to lock a card that you still have but rarely use, or when you’re going on vacation someplace where you can’t use your card for a while. You could even prevent a secondary cardholder (or yourself) from making purchases.

Remember, locking a credit card is not an effective replacement for reporting it lost or stolen. If you truly can’t find your card or you believe it was stolen, you need to report your card missing to your card issuer and get a replacement card as soon as possible. In addition, you should check your credit card statement and report unauthorized transactions to the credit card company. This is a more permanent solution to help protect your account.

Can I Still Use a Locked Credit Card?

Locked credit cards continue to automatically process recurring autopayments. To use your credit card for everyday purchases, you need to unlock the credit card first.

Which Issuers Offer Credit Card Locks?

Many credit card issuers offer credit card locks, including American Express, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Discover, and Wells Fargo. When shopping around for a new credit card, make sure to review the available security features.

Is a Credit Card Lock the Same as a Credit Freeze?

No. A credit card lock is a security feature that prevents use of your credit card. With a credit freeze, you prevent unauthorized parties from viewing your credit report.

What Is a Credit Freeze?

Credit freezes block access to your credit report so lenders and other companies cannot view it until you lift the freeze. If someone obtains your information and tries to open a line of credit or loan in your name, the creditor processing the application is unable to view your credit file and then rejects the application. It is an additional layer of security that helps prevent unauthorized access to your credit report, effectively stopping common forms of identity theft.

It is federally mandated that credit freezes be free for all American consumers. This decision was made to combat the rising levels of fraud and identity theft over recent years.

How to Freeze Your Credit

To freeze your credit file with all three major credit bureaus – Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion® – you must contact each one individually and make the request online, by phone or by mail. It’s important to do this for every single credit bureau so that all your credit reports are protected.

You need to verify your personal information to prove your identity, including:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Address

Once you’ve proven your identity and put the freeze in place, your credit file is not available to lenders unless you lift the freeze. You receive a PIN that allows you to temporarily or permanently lift the freeze to open new credit accounts as needed.

When Should You Freeze Your Credit?

A credit freeze is a highly effective way of protecting your credit file from fraud. If you believe you are the victim of identity theft, you should immediately freeze your credit with all three credit bureaus to prevent further fraud from occurring.

But you don’t have to wait to become a victim to freeze your credit – anyone can freeze their credit reports at any time to proactively prevent fraud. If you do this, you just need to unfreeze your credit report whenever you submit a legitimate application for credit.

Bottom Line

Credit card locks and credit card freezes are valuable tools in the fight against credit card fraud and identity theft. But IdentityIQ identity theft protection takes it one step further, monitoring your identity for signs of fraud and warning you when changes land on your credit report.


Do card locks work for debit cards, too?

Yes, many banks allow you to lock your debit card.

Are there still times you should cancel your card?

Yes. If you know your card is stolen or has been permanently lost, you should immediately cancel your card and order a replacement to help protect your account.

Does locking a credit card affect your credit score?

No, locking your credit card does not affect your credit score.

Does freezing your credit affect your credit score?

Freezing your credit does not directly impact your credit score. It may prevent fraudulent activity from appearing on your credit report, which helps protect your credit score from the negative effects of identity theft.