Equifax, one of the “Big Three” credit bureaus recently announced that a massive hack has exposed the personal information of up to 143 million people. To add perspective to that statement, that is about two-thirds of American credit card holders or close to half the population of the United States. Equifax did not notify people to tell them they were victims. Because of this, it’s up to you to protect your credit and keep thieves from stealing your identity.
Protect Your Credit
To protect your credit, you should immediately check to see if you were one of the 143 million people affected by the Equifax breach. You can do that online at Equfax’s “Am I Impacted?” page. It will direct you to TrustedID, a service provided by Equifax.
If you find you are one of the 143 million whose information may have been stolen, you have several options. Equifax is offering one free year of credit file monitoring through TrustedID. You can also place a fraud alert on your account. Contact one credit reporting company (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion), tell them you are an identity theft victim, and ask the company to put a fraud alert on your credit file. Make sure that the company will contact the other two companies.
The initial fraud alert will make it harder for an identity thief to open accounts in your name. The alert lasts for 90-days and can be renewed.
A more severe precaution called a credit freeze restricts access to your credit report. A credit freeze makes it more difficult for thieves to use your identity to apply for loans or credit cards in your name. This is the option that many mortage and credit experts suggest. Consumer Reports has a good article on how to do this.
By contacting each of the three credit reporting agencies separately, you can request a temporary freeze. This would prevent them from providing credit information without both your explicit permission and a PIN.
Unlike the fraud alerts, the agencies may charge you a fee for instituting the freeze. Additionally, they can charge another fee to lift the freeze each time.
A credit freeze will not affect your credit score. If you are in the process of buying a home, contact your loan officer and discuss the decision you are considering. If you will be making a mortgage application in the near future, you can temporarily lift the freeze for the lender you are using. A trusted mortgage professional is a key team member when buying a home. Making an appointment with them is one of the first steps along with choosing your real estate professional. Contact me if you would like a recommendation to a trusted mortgage professional.
You can request a credit freeze online or by phone:
Equifax – 800-349-9960 | Experian – 888-397-3742 | Trans Union – 888-909-8872
For more information, see Credit Freeze FAQs at the Federal Trade Commission.
It is important to personally monitor your credit reports through annual credit report.com to discover any unusual activity. Read my Check Your Credit post for more information. But if you are a victim, you’ll want to take precautionary actions immediately and monitor your credit much more closely.