Equifax Security Breach
You have surely heard about the Equifax security breach that recently became big news (but actually occurred in July).
What you should KNOW?
- 143 million Americans had their Social Security number, birth date, address, and driver’s license number stolen from Equifax. This information can be used to open a new line of credit using your identity.
- Equifax and the other credit bureaus provide your personal data to your lender when you apply for a loan. Your lender may also provide data about your payment activities to the credit bureaus, but they already have your identify info.
- 209,000 credit card numbers were stolen, but that doesn’t put your identity at risk.
- Before you do anything, check to see if you’re affected at https://equifaxsecurity2017.com. This site is safe to visit, but watch out for fakes that scammers may send you.
- Equifax is promoting their own credit monitoring service, TrustedID. It is free for 1 year but may require payment after that.
- Placing a freeze on your credit may be more effective because it blocks all new credit applications under your identity, until you “unfreeze”.
What can you DO?
- Obtain free copies of your credit report. You are entitled by law to a free credit report from each of the "Big 3" (Equifax, Transunion, Experian) once a year. But there is now a fourth bureau called Innovis, which follows the same rules as the others. This means you can check your credit 3 times a year (request a new report once very 4 months from a different bureau). You can order your free copies from annualcreditreport.com or by phone at (877)322-8228. All other sources will try to sell you a report, or offer a “free” report if you agree to sign up for some kind of subscription service — usually credit monitoring. Avoid the other look-alike sites, such as freecreditreport.com. They are not the genuine, government-mandated service, so be cautious. Your free credit report will show all your lines of credit and other debt obligations, along with other important data. However, it will not show your FICO score.
Set up fraud alerts, which requires potential creditors to obtain your permission before opening new lines of credit in your name. You are allowed by law to file a fraud alert (or “security alert”) with one of the credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Trans Union and the newest bureau Innovis) every 90 days. Whichever one you file with is required by law to alert the others as well. Fraud alerts last 90 days, and you can renew them as often as you like (a recurring calendar entry can help you manage this task). Consumers who can demonstrate they are victims, or will likely be victims, of identity theft can apply for a long-term fraud alert that lasts up to 7 years (a police report and other documentation may be required).
Order a credit freeze. A credit/security freeze prevents anyone from accessing your credit report. So, if a scammer tries to open a new line of credit using your name, date of birth, and social security number, the lender pulling your credit report would be blocked, and you will need to contact the credit bureau. (Note: it will NOT say the report is frozen; this is part of the security feature.)
Each of the bureaus will give you a 6-digit number (PIN) you can use to unfreeze or "thaw" your reports. Be sure you hide this PIN someplace where you won’t lose it – because if you do, your reports will remain frozen.
If YOU go to open an account, you need to contact the credit bureau ahead of time (either on the phone or online) and "thaw" your account for either a set period of time or for a particular creditor. Also, you can completely remove it if you determine you don't want the protection any longer. You will need the PIN you set for the bureaus to thaw or unfreeze your reports. You can also temporarily thaw your account. For example, if you know you're going to be looking for a car over the next week, call the three bureaus and thaw your report for the next week. Or, if you are applying for a credit card, call and unfreeze your report for that company, and then turn the freeze back on.
You may also have to pay a small fee to place a freeze at each bureau.
Here are your options to prevent identity theft causing you to have to clean up your credit:
- Credit freeze (most effective, most inconvenient)
- Fraud alert (less effective, less inconvenient)
- Free credit reports (doesn’t prevent identity theft but gives you insight, can be done in conjunction with a freeze or alert)
Check to see if you were affected by the Equifax breach at affected at https://equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact. Due to heavy activity, please be patient. If you can’t get through, try again later---it may be overwhelmed at times. Ladies, if you have a maiden name, check that as well.
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