Equifax data breech
I’m sure you’ve seen all the headlines regarding the recent data breech at Equifax. I urge you to consider freezing your credit to minimize potential fraud going forward. I cannot say if freezing our credit will prevent fraud for certain, I do believe it to be one of the ways we can proactively protect ourselves.
Keep in mind that if you are contemplating making a major purchase using new credit, you will need to allow time for unfreezing your credit during the approval process. Also freezing your credit will make it more difficult to take advantage of new store credit cards when shopping – maybe that’s a good thing!
What is a credit freeze?
A security freeze, also called a credit freeze, locks your credit file at each bureau with a special PIN that only you know. That PIN must be used in order for anyone to access your credit file, or add new credit in your name.
(Note: As of now, Equifax does not believe that security PINs were accessed by hackers. If you had a security freeze in place at Equifax before the hack your PIN should still be protected. But that could change.)
Was I affected?
You can see if you were a victim of Equifax’s hack by visiting equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/ and entering your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number. You can also wait to receive a letter from Equifax.
Regardless, take this time to freeze your credit. Given the sheer volume of breaches in the past few years, it is likely your information has already been exposed. Freezing your credit will give you peace of mind and is a crucial step in protecting your identity from hackers.
Credit bureaus rarely emphasize freezing your credit file because it’s not in their best interest, or their clients—banks and other companies that grant credit. Instead, they recommend “credit monitoring,” a largely useless and ineffective service that charges you money to tell you when your open, or unfrozen, credit file has been accessed.
In essence, they tell you that you may have a credit breach problem AFTER the fact, which isn’t protection against identity theft. The same is true for LifeLock, a company that has been repeatedly fined by the government for unfair and deceptive trade practices. I do not recommend LifeLock.
A security freeze gives you complete control of your credit file. Unlike credit lock (offered by Transunion) credit monitoring or fraud alerts, a security freeze stops an identity theft from happening rather than alerting you to potential fraud after it has happened.
How to do it:
To set up a security freeze you must contact all three of the credit bureaus individually. This process can be done online or over the phone or by mail. You will be asked some questions to confirm your identity but it only takes a few minutes.
I recommend beginning with Experian and Transunion as Equifax’s website is currently receiving high volume.
You can freeze your credit by using the following phone numbers and/or links:
- Equifax: 866-349-5191
Freeze your credit
- Experian: 888-397-3742
Freeze your credit
- Transunion: 888-909-8872
Freeze your credit
I was able to quickly & easily freeze my credit at Experian & Transunion. Neither charged a fee. I don’t expect Equifax to charge either. The Equifax website was unable to process my request the first time I tried it but was successful today (10/23/2017). As I mentioned none of the three bureaus charged me a fee but there is the potential for residents of other states to be charged a fee. Proven identity theft victims can have this fee waived. (If you need to lift the freeze you will have to pay the same fee.)
To lift your freeze you simply contact the bureau used by the lender and provide your PIN to lift the freeze for a certain period of time. This can be done online or over the phone. It may take a few days for the freeze to be lifted so be sure to do it a few days in advance.
I cannot stress this enough: you must retain your PIN number as it cannot be recovered if you forget it. Perhaps one of the password manager services would be helpful. PCMAG.com published a review here. Another possibility would be to store the pin numbers in a contact record in your cell phone. I wouldn’t necessarily save it with the name credit freeze but perhaps create a fictitious contact or perhaps a contact record for your pet. If you use this method, you still need to be sure that your phone is backed up – most of the cell plans have some type of cloud backup included – be sure backup is working properly.