Equifax announced last week a data breach involving potentially 143 million consumers occurred on July 29. Louis Basenese states in his article, How to Survive the Equifax Hack, Equifax may have known of the hack as early as May. It’s unclear why we are just now finding out about this in September just ahead of Hurricane Irma news, but it’s done. Now, it’s time to determine the best ways to protect oneself against a month-old, or longer, breach. In other words, the breach has a lengthy head start on whatever havoc it will render.
Everyone needs to address the breach; however, millions of people have to put their lives on hold to deal with the aftermath of fires and hurricanes. It’s a difficult time, and the Equifax’s breach may be the last thing on people’s minds. However, having your personal information in the hands of thieves can create a financial disaster.
The Equifax breach is different than the Target breach because the thieves have obtained birthdates, social security numbers, home addresses, and work history, in addition to credit card numbers. You may be thinking, “Hah! I do not have any credit cards; I’m fine!” Not true!
Not only can the hackers use current credit card numbers, but they also create new debt in your name and use it. Several months and thousands of dollars later, you may be alerted by a debt collector you owe a bill to that you never created. Managing your credit is extremely important for this very reason!
Equifax has created a website - https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/ - for folks to determine if they are part of the 143 million compromised accounts. I tried the link. The link required me to click the “enroll” tab, at which time I entered my last name and the last four digits of my SSN. A person is not actually enrolling when they click on the enroll tab. After entering my information, I received the message, “Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident.” My husband’s information yielded this response, “Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information was not impacted by this incident my information may have been breached.” Apparently, two people living in the same household can obtain different results; therefore, it is important to check both your spouse and your information. It’s a good idea to check your children’s information and credit reports, too, as thieves can use their information to open up credit with their information.
After receiving the message, it told me I have to wait until the next day to enroll. So, my data is at risk, but I have to wait to enroll in Equifax’s free protection program? I need to act now! They are offering free enrollment with TrustedID Premier. The enrollment lets you monitor all three credit bureaus. Basenese strongly recommends reading the fine print and suggests enrolling in Equifax’s TrustedID program may exempt you from certain rights. I entered my information on Equifax’s TrustedID before reading Basenese article; however, I have not completed the enrollment. Equifax states I will receive an email to complete the enrollment which I have not received. Perhaps I will see the fine print at that time?
If you opt not to enroll with TrustedID due to the fine print, you could consider signing up with a company that protects your identity such as IdentityForce, IdentityGuard, LifeLock, etc. Why? Not all creditors report to all three credit bureaus. This is important, so I will write it again.
NOT ALL CREDITORS REPORT TO ALL THREE CREDIT BUREAUS!
Why is that important? Let’s look at the following hypothetical scenario: You enroll or have been enrolled with one credit bureau to watch your credit. The hackers open a credit card in your name and begin charging on the account. 30 days later, the creditor reports to one credit bureau, the one which you are not enrolled. You look at your credit bureau account, and all looks good. The hackers continue to charge on the card, and the creditor continues to report to the one credit bureau unbeknownst to you. A couple of months go by with no payments made to the creditor which is logical because you didn’t open the account so you wouldn’t make a payment. The creditor sends you a letter by snail mail, and you are at a loss as to why they are sending you a demand for payment notice.
So, what should you do? A friend contacted me and asked this very question. They asked if they should freeze their credit. I initially misunderstood the question. I thought they were asking if they should freeze the use of their credit cards (and pay them off every month). Knowing they use credit in their business, my answer was, “No.” Now, I realize, they were most likely asking if they should freeze their credit report so credit cannot be obtained using their information. My answer is a definite, “Yes!” Basenese shared the FTC’s Consumer Information page to easily freeze your credit report. It’s actually not that easy because it takes a little bit of effort and does include minimal fees. First, you need to contact each credit bureau which are listed here if you do not want scroll through the FTC site; however, the FTC link has a lot of valuable information and it is worth reading.
Equifax – 800-349-9960 – Process: I filled out an online form, hit submit a couple of times after verifying I wanted a credit freeze. Once it processes, you will be given a 10-digit pin which you must have to remove or temporarily release your credit. Print and download a copy! Cost: $0
Experian – 888-397-3742 – Process: I filled out an online form, hit submit, added payment information, and hit submit. It asked me to verify information such as previous streets I have lived on. I passed the questions and received my pin. Cost: $5
TransUnion – 888-909-8872 – Process: TransUnion is a little bit confusing. They require you to enroll in their (free) TrueIdentity program to lock (freeze) your TransUnion credit report. In creating an account, I had to create a user name, password, and a security question. Then I had to verify my identity and was given three options to do so, such as receiving a code in a text. They emailed me my pin. Cost: $0
It took me about 15 minutes to freeze my credit with all three credit bureaus.
In addition to a credit freeze, I recommend signing up with a company to help protect your credit. Why? This is why…the Consumer FTC site says this about freezing your credit:
A credit freeze also does not…
… prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. You still need to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.
An identity theft protection company will help monitor your active accounts. Also, a credit freeze will not stop a hacker with all of your personal information from trying to obtain credit from unscrupulous sources who may not use credit reports to extend credit.
As mentioned, TrustedID, a service owned and offered by Equifax, may not be the knight in shining armor. And, even though Equifax is offering it for free for one year, how does it rate against the other options available which would require payment? I looked at TopTenReviews, Reviews.com, and ConsumerAffairs. TrustedID did not make TopTenReviews or Review.com lists and received a 3.5 out of 4 stars on the ConsumerAffairs site based on user reviews. Signing up with an identity theft protection company will add an additional expense to your budget but the added security and peace of mind is worth skipping eating out a couple of times each month.
In conclusion, Basenese, FoxBusiness, and the FTC all state that a credit freeze is the most proactive way to protect yourself. Freezing your credit makes it so no one can run your credit report. They also shared a credit freeze can be temporarily removed to obtain credit if necessary.
Freezing your credit is a smart idea, but I wouldn’t do it without also enrolling in an identity theft protection program because if hackers have all of your information, it is feasible they could find a creditor to extend credit without running a credit report. Or, they can find someone who works at a financial institution who is agreeable to opening up fraudulent credit accounts. Too much work or difficult for thieves? Perhaps, but they were able to obtain personal information of 143 million people by hacking Equifax. It's a hassle and costly, but it's better to be safe than sorry.