Things to be Aware of with the Equifax Breach

David Stone |
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  As most of you know there was a breach to the Equifax credit bureau data base which could affect up to 143 million Americans.  The information accessed includes social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and drivers’ license numbers.  The question now is what is Equifax doing about this situation, and what can I do to protect my financial information?

  Currently Equifax is offering their credit monitoring service for free for one year.  They also have put up a website www.equifaxsecurity2017.com that is intended to let people determine whether they were affected by the breach.  However, this website seems to be unreliable, thus I would just assume your information has been compromised.

  After news broke about the data breach with Equifax, my clients started to call me to find out what they should do.  A few asked if the credit monitoring service they have is sufficient to protect them from identity theft.  The truth of the matter is any credit monitoring service isn’t designed to prevent identity theft, just alert you as soon as possible when it occurs, and help you recover from it.  Most identity theft situations don’t involve the loss of money out of the victims’ pocket as much as the time it takes to rectify the situation.  It involves dozens of hours of writing and mailing letters, and making phone calls to creditors and credit bureaus to straighten out the mess.

  The best way today to prevent your identity from being stolen is by filing a security or credit freeze with the four major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, and Innovis).  A credit freeze blocks any potential creditors from being able to view your credit file.  Thus, when someone tries to open an account in your name, the creditor won’t be able to view your credit which means they have no idea how to gauge how risky it is to loan you money.  Few if any creditors are likely to extend credit to anyone if they don’t know how much risk they are taking lending you money.  You can freeze your credit by notifying EACH of the major credit bureaus that you wish to place the freeze.  Usually this can be done online, but in rarer circumstances you may need to contact them via phone or mail.  Once you complete the application process, each credit bureau will provide you a unique personal identification number (PIN) that could be used to unfreeze or “thaw” your credit file in the event you need to get some type of loan or need credit.  You should be aware, depending on your state of residence, there may be a fee to unfreeze your credit per bureau.  These fees range from $0-$15 per credit bureau, and the fee is $5 in the state of Ohio.  It can take up to 3 business days to thaw your credit file under unusual circumstances, however it is not unusual for it to only take 15 minutes in our electronic society. 

  An alternative to the credit freeze is a fraud alert which we recommend in all of our financial plans.  With a fraud alert, lenders or service providers should not grant credit in your name without first contacting you to obtain your approval.  To get a fraud alert, you should contact one of the credit bureaus either online or via phone, and complete a short application with the necessary security questions.  By law, once the application is approved, all the other credit bureaus will be notified.  The downside to getting a fraud alert is even though the lenders and service providers are supposed to obtain your approval before granting credit, they are not legally obligated to do so, and very often do not.

  The reality of the situation is your personal information isn’t ever completely protected from hackers and identity thieves.  To what degree you want to protect your identity is up to you whether it is through a credit freeze, or fraud alert.  If you are comfortable to just monitor your credit through a credit monitoring service, the choice ultimately is yours.

As most of you know there was a breach to the Equifax credit bureau data base which could affect up to 143 million Americans.  The information accessed includes social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and drivers’ license numbers.  The question now is what is Equifax doing about this situation, and what can I do to protect my financial information?

  Currently Equifax is offering their credit monitoring service for free for one year.  They also have put up a website www.equifaxsecurity2017.com that is intended to let people determine whether they were affected by the breach.  However, this website seems to be unreliable, thus I would just assume your information has been compromised.

  After news broke about the data breach with Equifax, my clients started to call me to find out what they should do.  A few asked if the credit monitoring service they have is sufficient to protect them from identity theft.  The truth of the matter is any credit monitoring service isn’t designed to prevent identity theft, just alert you as soon as possible when it occurs, and help you recover from it.  Most identity theft situations don’t involve the loss of money out of the victims’ pocket as much as the time it takes to rectify the situation.  It involves dozens of hours of writing and mailing letters, and making phone calls to creditors and credit bureaus to straighten out the mess.

  The best way today to prevent your identity from being stolen is by filing a security or credit freeze with the four major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, and Innovis).  A credit freeze blocks any potential creditors from being able to view your credit file.  Thus, when someone tries to open an account in your name, the creditor won’t be able to view your credit which means they have no idea how to gauge how risky it is to loan you money.  Few if any creditors are likely to extend credit to anyone if they don’t know how much risk they are taking lending you money.  You can freeze your credit by notifying EACH of the major credit bureaus that you wish to place the freeze.  Usually this can be done online, but in rarer circumstances you may need to contact them via phone or mail.  Once you complete the application process, each credit bureau will provide you a unique personal identification number (PIN) that could be used to unfreeze or “thaw” your credit file in the event you need to get some type of loan or need credit.  You should be aware, depending on your state of residence, there may be a fee to unfreeze your credit per bureau.  These fees range from $0-$15 per credit bureau, and the fee is $5 in the state of Ohio.  It can take up to 3 business days to thaw your credit file under unusual circumstances, however it is not unusual for it to only take 15 minutes in our electronic society. 

  An alternative to the credit freeze is a fraud alert which we recommend in all of our financial plans.  With a fraud alert, lenders or service providers should not grant credit in your name without first contacting you to obtain your approval.  To get a fraud alert, you should contact one of the credit bureaus either online or via phone, and complete a short application with the necessary security questions.  By law, once the application is approved, all the other credit bureaus will be notified.  The downside to getting a fraud alert is even though the lenders and service providers are supposed to obtain your approval before granting credit, they are not legally obligated to do so, and very often do not.

  The reality of the situation is your personal information isn’t ever completely protected from hackers and identity thieves.  To what degree you want to protect your identity is up to you whether it is through a credit freeze, or fraud alert.  If you are comfortable to just monitor your credit through a credit monitoring service, the choice ultimately is yours.

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