Okay, I know you’re busy, so let’s get right to the facts about Equifax and credit freezes. The breach affected 143 million U.S. consumers. Could you be one of them?
Yes, maybe, possibly. I used this link to see if my information was impacted. You key in your last name and the last six digits of your social security number (SSN). I gave my information and I was told that my information may have been stolen.
This isn’t a definitive answer, but “may have been impacted” is enough for me to advocate for credit freezes for myself as well as for others.
What’s a credit freeze?
A credit freeze restricts the ability to access your credit report. When an identity thief tries to open an account in your name (and uses your SSN), they will be thwarted. A creditor will almost always check your credit report before approving your application. If the creditor can’t open your file to see your credit history, this will be a red flag.
When you request a freeze from each credit bureau (you have to put a freeze on all of your reports; not just your Equifax report), you’ll get a confirmation letter that includes a PIN or password. If you need to apply for credit, you’ll use this PIN to thaw your report. It can take three business days to lift a credit freeze, so keep that in mind.
I’ve given you the basics, but for true credit geeks (raising my hand), you can get more information about credit freezes right here from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Note: To make matters more confusing, individual bureaus are also offering you an option called a “credit lock.” I’ve seen news stories using the terms interchangeably. A credit lock is different from a credit freeze. The credit lock is easier to remove, but that’s not a really a good thing. I recommend a freeze, but whatever option you choose, read the (boring) fine print so you are clear about what protection you have and how to proceed if you need to let a lender access your credit file.
Another option is to have a fraud alert placed on your file. This is free and lasts for 90 days. The problem here is that the thieves might hold on to your financial information for a year before selling it on the “dark net” or just using the information for their own financial gain.
Equifax and credit freezes
The cost of a credit freeze varies by state. The fee ranges from $5 to $10. Equifax responded to a public outcry about the fees and has waived these fees until November 21, 2017. So if you want to implement a credit freeze, do so before then so you won’t have to pay the fee.
Another Note: The other credit bureaus are still charging the fee, so be aware of that. Also, know that thawing out your credit freeze might come with a fee. The fees vary by state and it remains to be seen if Equifax will offer to cover the fee for lifting a freeze.
Equifax has set up this new section on its website: Cybersecurity Incident & Important Consumer Information to answer your questions. Let me know if this is helpful or confusing to you. Just curious about your reaction.
Does a security freeze affect your FICO score?
You don’t need to worry about this. With a security freeze, your credit card issuer can still report your on-time credit card payments. If you’re rebuilding or establishing credit, you’ll continue to build a new and improved credit history. That is, as long as you use your credit card responsibly and stay out of trouble.
You can continue to use your credit cards just as you did before. The only thing that’s changed is that new accounts can’t be opened unless you take steps to “thaw” your credit file.
Should you sign up for the free credit monitoring?
Hmmm… Yeah, this is always my reaction to credit monitoring. I stay on top of my accounts every day so I can make sure nothing fishy is going on. So it bothers me to pay for this service. But I’ve also acknowledged in the past that there are occasions when this might helpful as an added precaution, such as when you’re going through a cantankerous divorce or if you’ve been a fraud victim.
Equifax is offering a monitoring service called TrustedID Premier (click on the name to go directly to the enrollment page). There was a lot of media attention about the arbitration and class action waiver language in the terms and conditions. Here’s an update from Equifax as of September 13, 2017:
How do you place a credit freeze on your credit reports?
You’ll need to contact each credit bureau. There have been issues doing this online because so many consumers are trying to freeze accounts. If you’ve had problems (or successes) freezing your credit, let us know in the comments section. Stay calm if you can’t make the freeze happen the first time you try.
Here’s what you need to know to place at freeze at each credit bureau:
You can freeze your credit online by going to the Equifax Security Freeze Website. Or you can call 1-800-349-9960.
You can freeze your credit online right here. Or you can call 1-888-909-8872.
I just tried to do an online freeze to see if it worked and I got a message that due to a high volume of freeze requests (no kidding!) they can’t fulfill my request right now. They suggested I try again later.
You can freeze your credit online by going to Experian’s Security Freeze page. Or you can call 1-888-397-3742.
What about the “fourth credit bureau”?
An alert reader asked me about Innovis and I did some research. Innovis is a smaller credit bureau whose clients are mostly businesses. I didn’t include it in my original post since it isn’t one of “The Big Three.” When you ask for a free report at AnnualCreditReport.com, Innovis isn’t even an option. And you also don’t have an Innovis credit score.
Even though the details about this fourth bureau are a little fuzzy, I think it’s probably a good idea to freeze this one, too, because they do store personal information about consumers. You can freeze your credit right here. The phone number is 1-800-540-2505.
Simple steps to protect yourself
Check all of your financial accounts online every day. Look at each credit card purchase to make sure the transactions are yours. Also, look for purchases under $10 or so. Fraudsters sometimes charge small amounts on a credit card to see if the account is live. Report any suspicious transactions to your credit card issuer.
You should also look at your annual credit reports. This doesn’t help you catch fraudulent purchases on existing accounts, but it will help catch new accounts that have been opened in your name. Here’s the official website for free credit reports: AnnualCreditReport.com.
Okay, hope all this was helpful. This is still an evolving story, so I’ll update if you if there are significant changes that you need to know about. This is one of those things that’s a pain in the you-know-what, but it is what it is and we need to take steps to protect our information.
If you’ve got questions, fire away down below!