Wealth Advisor, Nancy Coumou, CFP® tells how to freeze your credit report and why you should do it, now.
'Equifax will now let you place or lift a credit freeze for free until January 31, 2018.
On September 7 we learned that the personal financial data of 143 million American consumers was exposed to a data breach at Equifax.
Equifax, one of the three major U.S. credit reporting agencies, soaks up personal financial info about consumers as reported to them by banks, lenders, credit card companies, etc. They assimilate this data and produce credit ratings that rank consumers’ creditworthiness.
While it’s essential to have a system for capturing and reporting on credit history, it’s equally vital that this system be secure. So, before providing actionable steps to safeguard your identity, let’s first indulge in a little outrage over how it is that millions of us are in this boat. Equifax not only lacked adequate web security to thwart the hack, which occurred between mid-May and July, but also failed to alert us to it on July 29, when the data breach was discovered. And, until bowing to consumer pressure to do so, Equifax hadn't been waiving its $10 fee to place a credit freeze – the gall! So far, about 30 lawsuits have been filed against Equifax: good!
For now, here are the best ways to protect yourself from the results of the Equifax breach (as well as future data hacks, because these things keep happening):
Freeze your credit - Assume your data has been compromised (or that it will be some day) and freeze your credit report. A credit freeze is the very best way to ensure that no new accounts will be established using your identity. Visit this FAQs page from the Federal Trade Commission for excellent info about credit freezes.
Here is contact info for each credit rating agency, as well as a few notes about my experience using their automated telephone services to place a credit freeze.
o Equifax — 1-800-349-9960 – Equifax’s phone process is straightforward and easy to use. They will snail-mail a confirmation letter containing an ‘unlock’ PIN. Bowing to consumer pressure, Equifax is now waiving its $10 fee until November 21 and will refund the fees of those who have placed a freeze since September 7.
o Experian — 1 888 397 3742 – $10 - This phone experience was the worst. Experian’s system was bizarre and almost comically slow at processing inputs, but the freeze was successfully placed (after a 7-minute call). As with the others, Experian will snail-mail a confirmation letter and ‘unlock’ PIN.
o TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872 - $10 – No complaints here; TransUnion has an easy-to-use phone system. As with the others, TransUnion will snail-mail a confirmation letter and ‘unlock’ PIN.
o Innovis — 1-800-540-2505 Even though Innovis is not one of the three major reporting agencies, we still recommend you place a credit freeze here. Happily, Innovis does not charge for a credit freeze and their telephone system is a breeze to navigate. They too will send confirmation and an ‘unlock’ PIN by mail.
Monitor your credit report - To obtain a free annual credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, go here www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. After you’ve done this, set a calendar reminder to reorder the report next year.
For the best chance of spotting fraudulent activity, the highly diligent among us will order just one report at a time as to not exhaust the ‘one free report per year’ limit on all three reporting agencies at once. You could, for instance, order the TransUnion report each January, order the Experian report each May, and order the Equifax report each September.
Pay attention to your accounts - A credit freeze will not protect accounts that are already open from being fraudulently used. Monitor account activity and take advantage of activity alerts that your bank and credit card companies offer.
Remain diligent and form good ‘identity protection’ habits - Now that the Equifax data breach has revealed umpteen millions of Social Security numbers, DOBs, and addresses to hackers, we should anticipate fallout for years to come. As such, the items listed above should become habits, like locking the front door when leaving the house.