Adding a layer of protection to your credit report is a smart way to help prevent identity theft. A fraud alert and credit freeze are both great, free ways to help you protect your personal data. When you place a fraud alert or credit freeze, it makes it more difficult for anyone – including fraudsters – to apply for credit using your personal information.

So, how do they differ? Is one better than the other? Below is a breakdown of the differences so you can compare a fraud alert vs. credit freeze and make the best decision on how to protect your data identity.

What is a fraud alert?

A fraud alert is a statement added to your credit file stating you may be, or potentially have been, a victim of identity theft. It doesn’t prevent lenders from viewing your credit report, but it does notify them to take extra precaution, such as calling you directly, when verifying a credit application. It’s a good option if you’re worried about identity theft, but still want to allow lenders access to your credit report.

TransUnion offers three types of fraud alerts. An Initial Fraud Alert lasts for one year. An Extended Fraud Alert is for victims of identity theft and lasts for seven years. An extended fraud alert has to be requested by mail and requires extra documentation to verify your identity. Then there’s the Active-Duty Military Alert. This fraud alert lasts for one year and is for eligible military members.

How to add a fraud alert to your credit report

You can add a one-year fraud alert online through the TransUnion Service Center. You’ll need to create a free account if you don’t have one. There, you can also update the phone number you want associated with your fraud alert. It’s important to keep your phone number current since lenders will call the listed number when they need to verify you’ve applied for credit. When you place one with TransUnion, they’ll automatically notify Equifax and Experian so  they can also add a fraud alert to the report they have for you.

What is a credit freeze?

credit freeze, sometimes called a security freeze, will block all third parties, such as lenders or other companies, whose use is not exempt under law, from accessing your credit file without your consent. This gives you more control over who can access your credit report information. It can help prevent fraudsters from opening an account in your name. At the same time,  it’ll block lenders from accessing your credit report, even if it’s you applying for credit. So, you’ll need to remember to unfreeze your credit before applying.

How to add a credit freeze to your credit report

Just like a fraud alert, you can place a credit freeze on your TransUnion credit report online through the TransUnion Service Center. There you can place a freeze, remove a freeze or temporarily lift the freeze. A temporary lift is useful if you’re planning to apply for credit and know when your lender will need access to your credit report. When you temporarily lift your credit freeze, you’ll be able to choose the date the freeze goes back on your report. A credit freeze will stay on your credit report until you choose to remove it. You’ll need to notify Equifax and Experian individually if you want to freeze your credit with them.

Fraud alert vs. credit freeze: Which is right for me?

If you want more control over who can access your personal information, you may want to freeze your credit. But if you don’t want to block access to your credit report, though still want to add an extra security measure, a fraud alert may be right for you. You can also opt to place both a fraud alert and a credit freeze for added protection.

Be sure to monitor your credit as well

Fraud alerts and credit freezes help strengthen your data identity defense, but aren’t impenetrable. Regularly monitoring your credit is another way to help you identify any potentially fraudulent activity.