Equifax Aftermath: Taking Control of Your Credit
As details continue to be revealed (with potentially more forthcoming) regarding the Equifax data breach, many members have asked us about the best way to go about protecting their credit and personal information in the wake of this compromising event. In this post, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of two common options that are available to consumers.
Initiate A Fraud Alert
The first option is to have an “initial fraud alert” placed on your credit file. You will have to reach out to one of the three major credit bureaus to do so, but they are compelled by law to notify the other two. With a fraud alert on your file, you must be contacted and your identity confirmed before a lender can issue new credit. These alerts last 90 days, but can be renewed for another three months at the end of each term. You may also choose to receive a copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus at that time, which we recommend if you have not done so recently. The links/phone numbers below will get you started on this path.
Place Security Freezes
Alternatively, you may also choose to place a security (or credit) freeze on your credit reports, restricting access to only your existing creditors (and, in some cases, the government). This measure also requires reaching out to the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), but makes it that much more difficult for would-be theives to open new accounts in your name, as a creditor won’t issue new credit without being able to see your report. Unlike the free fraud alerts, you will be charged a fee for this service. In Virginia, the fee is $10 per credit bureau. You will also be charged to unfreeze your account when/should you choose to do so. The fees do vary state-to-state, so check out the individual bureau pages for other state’s fees.
Upon freezing your reports, you’ll receive a PIN from each bureau. You cannot lift the freeze without this number, so it is essential that it be kept safe. While frozen, you will be unable to open new accounts or take advantage of any opportunities that require a credit check, even applying for a job. In any of these situations, you will have to contact the credit bureaus to lift the security freeze so your credit file can be accessed and a decision made. Be aware that it may take some time to unlock, so it is important to plan ahead. If you decide to pursue this option, use the numbers and/or links below.
TransUnion – Freeze via Web or Call 1-800-909-8872 (To Unfreeze, click here)
Experian – Freeze via Web or Call 1-888-397-3742 (To Unfreeze, click here)
Equifax – Freeze via Web or Call 1-800-349-9960 (To Unfreeze, click here)
It is worth noting that neither of these steps will affect your credit score nor affect how your current loans are being reported from your lenders. Your credit files would be restricted and utilizing either of these services will give you more control of your credit going forward. But, keep in mind, once your personal information has been exposed, it’s out there indefinitely. The criminals that have stolen this information can be very patient with this collected data and may not try to use it for a while. As a result, the one choice that you must make is to remain vigilant and regularly check your bank statements and other credit accounts. In addition, as the free and more convenient option, we recommend that everyone set up fraud alerts on their credit files and be sure to renew them every 90 days. If you’re not the type of person to keep a calendar, it may help associate it with another quarterly activity, like oil changes or something of that nature. Just make sure to keep these alerts going.
For more information, the Federal Trade Commission is an excellent resource on matters regarding consumer credit. You can access their FAQ on Credit Freezes here.
As we mentioned in our previous post on this topic, if you are uncomfortable with the information presented here and would like to speak personally with one of our Certified Credit Union Financial Counselors, email us @ CCUFC@callfederal.org and we’ll be happy to assist you and walk you through the processes of securing your accounts and keeping your financial information as safe as possible. Stay tuned to this space for more cyber-security and identity theft prevention tips. Thanks for reading.
J.T. Blau, Scott Gregory, and Thomas McDonald contributed to this article.