As many of you have likely heard by now, Equifax (one of the three credit reporting bureaus) recently experienced an extensive data breach. Therefore, we are encouraging everyone, including those who were not directly affected by this breach, to take preventive and proactive steps to protect their credit.
We have outlined below main steps to take regarding protecting your credit and identity. First, we believe in today’s environment a prudent step would be to enroll in a credit monitoring and identity protection service. Additionally, two other options exist of additional protection layers, a fraud alert or a credit freeze.
You can first check to see if Equifax believes your information was stolen by entering your last name and the last six digits of your social security number here. Be sure to check any names you have used in the past, such as a maiden name.
If your information is deemed to be compromised, you can go through the steps provided to sign up for a credit monitoring service called “TrustedID Premier.” However, there is skepticism in the industry regarding the effectiveness of utilizing TrustedID Premier to protect one’s credit as the service is owned by Equifax.
Below are additional options available to protect your credit:
A credit freeze does not impact any of your currently established credit. However, the freeze does make it more difficult for identity thieves to establish new credit in your name. Placing a credit freeze on your accounts will require you to “thaw” your accounts if or when you need to apply for new credit. There may also be a nominal fee to place and lift a credit freeze. Note, that it takes about 3 days for your credit to “thaw,” so be sure to plan accordingly if you foresee a need to access credit in the near future.
If you decide to move forward with a credit freeze, then you must do so at each of the four credit bureaus listed below. Bear in mind that when you enact a freeze, you will be given a PIN; this PIN must be used to “thaw” your credit report if you need to establish new credit. If you lose the PIN, you will have to go through a fairly grueling process to get another PIN reissued.
Below are links to place a credit freeze at each credit bureau.
- Experian: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
- Equifax: https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
- TransUnion: https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp
- Innovis: https://www.innovis.com/securityFreeze/index
Consumers Union provides a list of credit freeze charges by state.
Another viable option to protect your credit is to place a fraud alert on your accounts. This option requires creditors to confirm your identity. You can place a fraud alert with any one of the credit reporting bureaus; that bureau will then notify the others. The alert will only remain active on your account for 90 days, so be sure to mark your calendar to renew if you wish to maintain the fraud alert in the future.
Credit Monitoring Services
Lastly, there are companies that can both monitor your credit and alert you of any fraudulent activity on your accounts. In addition to credit monitoring and fraud alerts, many companies also provide insurance for losses incurred due to identity theft. If you plan to utilize a credit monitoring service you should activate the service prior to placing a freeze on your credit so they are able to monitor your information; otherwise, they are locked out of the information. You should evaluate the proper service for you based on monitoring of both credit and identity, the frequency of monitoring, and any insurance available to protect against identity theft and restoration. Other benefits available from monitoring services are availability of credit score, credit reports, etc.
Other effective methods to protect your credit include keeping a watchful eye on your accounts and immediately reporting any suspicious activity as soon as you are aware of it. Furthermore, get in the habit of implementing sound personal-finance practices such as checking your credit report at least annually, filing your taxes early, using multi-factor authentication when available, and avoiding checking your accounts when connected to public, unsecured Wi-fi.
Essentially, always be cautious when entering personal, identifying information online.
Report identity theft: https://www.identitytheft.gov
Correct errors on a credit report: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0151-disputing-errors-credit-reports
Access your free annual credit reports: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/
Data security breach list (not comprehensive): https://oag.ca.gov/privacy/databreach/list
Additional information regarding Identity theft:
Feel free to contact Anne Bednarz with any questions by phone 806.747.7995or email: ABednarz@EK-FF.com.