Card lock: what it does, who offers it, how to use it
If you misplace your credit card, you can probably ease your anxiety immediately: Many major credit card issuers now allow you to lock or freeze your card for free, so that it cannot be used by a thief.
But even when your card isn’t compromised, you can strategically use its card lock feature for other reasons.
What is card lock?
Credit card companies call the function different names, often using the terms “lock” or “freeze”. To trigger an immediate lock or to cancel a lock, use your card issuer’s mobile app or log into your online account to activate an on / off switch. Many debit card accounts also have a lock.
The idea is that if you misplace a card, you can lock it or deactivate it. This would prevent a thief from making fraudulent charges with a stolen card number. If you find the card, you can unlock or reactivate it, all without calling your card issuer.
Why lock a card?
You are usually not responsible for fraudulent credit card charges anyway, but locking a card can reduce the hassle later in reporting fraudulent charges. And if you’ve misplaced a card and you’re likely to find it, locking it is less of a problem than canceling a card and issuing a new card number, which could affect billing accounts at automatic payment.
Beyond helping with misplaced cards, card locking gives a measure of control to consumers, who are often innocent bystanders in an era of rampant data breaches.
Which transactions are locked?
When you lock a card, new charges and cash advances will be declined. However, recurring automatic payments, such as subscriptions and monthly bills charged to the card, will continue to be processed. Typically, the same will be true of bank charges, returns, credits, interest, and rewards. Transactions made before the card was locked are not affected.
Check with your issuer or their website to determine if you have a card lock and how exactly yours works, as locks work differently depending on the card issuer. For example, if the card is associated with a smartphone mobile payment application, such as Apple Pay, which can continue to operate on a locked account. And the cards differ depending on whether or not they allow balance transfers when a card is locked.
Typically, a lock affects all cards with the same credit card number, which can affect authorized users of the card.
Some cards lock or freeze until you unlock or thaw them. The other locks expire. For example, an American Express freeze expires in seven days.
Which issuers offer credit card locks?
Many transmitters have added this functionality in recent years. Here is a sample of transmitters and what they call functionality:
Wells Fargo Control Tower
Use card lock strategically
Besides locking a lost card, here are other ways to use the feature:
Immediate response to a compromised card: If your card is part of a data breach or if you already see fraudulent charges on your account, you can immediately deactivate the card and then call the issuer. These few minutes could avoid fraudulent charges.
Nerdy tip: Locking your credit card does not replace the call to cancel your card if it has, in fact, been permanently lost, stolen or used fraudulently.
Control impulse spending: Unrelated to security, you can lock all of your credit cards and unlock them every time you make a purchase. That short time frame for handling your phone can provide a cooling off period during which you decide not to buy on impulse.
“Autopay and every day” strategy: If you designate a card for use with automatic payment only, you may as well lock it, as recurring charges will still be charged. Also, if you only use one card regularly, you can lock all the others as a precaution.
Unused or rarely used cards: You may be keeping some credit cards open because you’ve had them for a long time, and this long history will help your credit scores. Lock unused cards as an added security measure.
Cut an authorized user: If yours is the type of card that deactivates all of the credit cards associated with the account – Wells Fargo Cards are one example – this could be a good way to keep an authorized user’s spending under control. For example, you might have assigned an authorized user status to a child to help them increase their credit, but you don’t want them to charge anything on the card. And Barclays SecurHold ™ allows you to set transaction limits for authorized users and block certain categories of purchases.