Equifax, one of the three credit monitoring services, admitted recently that hackers gained access to the sensitive identify and financial information in their database for 143 million people (44% of the U.S. population). The hackers exploited a website weakness from mid-May to July. Equifax learned of the intrusion on July 29th but did not disclose the information to the public until 40 days later on September 7th. The credit breach is about as bad as you could expect a breach to be. Much of the data acquired is timeless information that could be used for years.
The result of this data breach is that anyone with this information will be able to pretend to be you and apply for credit in your name at any time in the future. There is only one way to guard yourself against this possibility: Lock down your credit.
How can I lock down my credit completely?
You can place a complete credit security freeze on your credit record. A credit freeze does everything a fraud alert does and more. First, it is permanent, not just for 90 days. Second, it prevents lenders from accessing your credit report entirely unless you specifically grant them access. This strategy prevents identity thieves from getting new credit in your name even if they have every bit of your personal information.
In some states, each credit bureau is allowed to charge a onetime $10 fee. If you have already been the victim of identity theft, the charge is waived. You can argue that your identify information has been compromised by Equifax if you want to see if you can get the fee waived. And some states do not allow agencies to charge for placing a security freeze.
We recommend a credit freeze for people who have already established the credit they need. A freeze both reduces the frenzied marketing of additional credit opportunities and the potential harm of compromised personal information.
After a few minutes of effort and $30 in payments, your credit should be locked for life. Couples should lock down the credit file of each spouse separately. Here is how to accomplish securing your credit at each bureau:
-At Experian (888-397-3742), go to http://www.experian.com/consumer/security_freeze.html
-At TransUnion (888-909-8872), go to
-At Equifax (1-888-766-0008), you can put a lock on your credit by visiting https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-freeze/
The process is not standardized across the three credit bureaus. Each uses a different method. But with a little effort, your credit will be safe and secure.
Can I lift the credit freeze later if necessary?
Yes. Each bureau will give you a personal identification number (PIN). They are likely to be all different. Do not lose these. Trying to get a security freeze lifted when you have forgotten the PIN necessary to change your credit security is a catch-22 you don’t want to experience.
If you do apply for additional credit, you must use these PINs to remove the freeze temporarily.
We recommend that you use a password vault such as KeePass to save these PINs in addition to printing hard copies.
Photo by Karen Maes on Unsplash