There has been a lot of media attention on this breach at Equifax. Unfortuantely it seems to be happening more and more. My daughter just got a letter in the mail that her debit card may have been compromised so they were sending a new one. I have had that happen more than once. So what can you do to protect yourself?
The most important thing to remember is that ultimately you, the consumer, need to protect your financial future – that means you need to be aware of the possibility of identity theft. I constantly tell clients that they need to look at their credit report at least once a year – truly more often than that. You can get a free copy of your credit report at http://www.annualcreditreport.com. This gives you access to the three main bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). You can look at all three reports at the same time or you can pull individual reports at different times during the year. My suggestion is to pull one bureau every 4 months or so – that way you can see if there is any new debt you are not aware of or any other errors on your report.
Many credit cards are offering free credit reports or an service that allows you to see what changes are happening on your report. Credit Karma also offers free credit reports and they just sent me an email regarding the breach at Equifax. These are more good ways to see what is happening to your credit report.
Equifax has offered a free year of credit monitoring to those that were affected by the breach. There is also a website set up to let people know if they may have been affected – it is http://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. I tried it and it said I was affected – I’m not surprised, I’m guessing many of us that have mortgages, car loans, credit cards were probably affected. It also sounds like people are having issues getting good answers at this site – my suggestion is to assume you have been compromised.
Many people are bringing up freezing their credit. This is an option – unless you are looking to buy a home or car, or even open any credit cards. When you freeze your credit report, it blocks any potential creditors from being able to view your credit file. If you freeze your report, identity thieves can apply for credit in your name but they will not be able to get any new lines of credit – unless a creditor wants to issue new credit without being able to see your credit file -most will not do that. If you do freeze your credit, you will need to “thaw” it before you can apply for any type of credit. Once you request that it is “thawed”, it may be immediate, but plan on 24 hours before a creditor can access your files. There are fees charged to freeze your credit report, but it is usually about $15 per credit bureau. If you have a police report showing identity theft, you can usually freeze your credit report for free. Some bureaus will charge a fee to release the credit freeze.
A fraud alert can be placed on your credit report, but not all creditors pay attention to it. Typically it is only in place for 90 days. It can be in place for up to 7 years, but you have to show that you have an official record showing that you are a victim of identity theft. A freeze is more secure than a fraud alert.
If nothing else, make sure you view your credit report frequently – at least a few times a year to make sure there aren’t any changes that you do not know about. Pay attention to any inquiries on your credit report, that is the fastest way to see if someone is trying to open a new account in your name. Also watch your credit card balances, if they are much higher than you expect, someone may be using your card without your knowledge. If you are watching your report, you will be able to catch any mistakes or possible fraud and be able to stop it immediately – hopefully before you have any damage.