The Equifax security breach is the worst Americans have experienced not only because of the large number of people impacted, but because of the volume of personal data that was exposed to hackers. Everyone needs to expect that he or she has been affected by this breach and take precautions now to protect himself.
A credit freeze locks your credit file from unauthorized requests and it can only be opened with a PIN which you know. This is more protection than any other security step you can take. It gives you control over your credit file and it the best way to protect your credit and your identity. It stops identity theft from happening rather than monitoring your accounts and telling you after a theft has occurred. If you are not currently applying for a mortgage or a new credit card, freezing your credit file could be a good step in protecting yourself.
A credit freeze does not prevent existing lender relationships from accessing your information so your bank, credit card companies, and mortgage lender can still get credit updates from your file. It locks out new vendors from getting information from your credit history. The purpose is to block a hacker from obtaining new credit in your name.
How do you Freeze your Credit?
To lock your credit files, contact the three major credit bureaus individually. You can make this contact either on line or over the phone.
- Equifax: 866-349-5191/ www.freeze.equifax.com
- TransUnion: 888-909-8872/www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze
- Experion: 888-397-3742/www.experian.com/freeze
It is also possible to do this in writing, but after learning all the information required in a letter I am concerned about the possibility that the letter could be misdirected and fall into the wrong hands.
Be prepared to provide your social security number, date of birth, and address for the last 5 years. Expect a long wait on hold if you use the phone. Millions of Americans are in the process of freezing their credit records. It is my understanding that the websites are running much more smoothly than they did in the early days of this breach.
Equifax has waived the $10 fee until November 21st. The other bureaus currently are asking for $10 to freeze your credit.
You should receive a PIN which you keep because you will need it if you ever need to lift the credit freeze to obtain new credit. You also will likely have to pay $10 to lift the freeze.
Even after freezing your credit you need to remain vigilant. Watch your bank accounts and credit cards every month for evidence of any unauthorized activity. Place alerts on your credit cards online to let you know when a charge is made without the card being present or a charge over a certain limit. You may be able to receive an alert if a foreign transaction is made in your account. These steps are critical for early detection.
Continue to use strong passwords and change your passwords often. Be very careful when opening emails and use extreme caution before clicking on a link in an email.
Never give personal information over the phone to someone who calls you. Always place the call in order to provide information to your bank or credit card company. And, remember, the IRS makes an initial contact about your taxes by mail, never by phone or email.
Stay safe in cyberspace.
Written by Connie C. Guelich, CFP, AEP, CLU, ChFC. This represents our view at the time of this writing and is subject to change. This is not intended to be personal investment advice. If you would like to discuss your own account, please don’t hesitate to call us. We are here to help and welcome your call.