Equifax Security Breach – How to Stay Protected
As you are likely aware, Equifax had a security breach that was discovered July 29, 2017. Equifax is a credit bureau that collects information from over 800 million individuals and almost 90 million businesses worldwide. Since the breach was discovered, Equifax has been working with a cybersecurity firm to find out the depth of the intrusion and the specific data that was compromised.
Information accessed includes names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses, and in some cases, driver’s license numbers. Approximately 209,000 credit card numbers were accessed.
Although Equifax says they will send direct notices to customers whose credit card number or information was breached, we recommend that you take some steps to protect your security irrespective of notification. The numbers we have seen indicate that this impacts more than half of the country. Therefore, we are operating under the assumption that everyone has been affected.
Freezing your Credit
We are recommending that you freeze your credit. Freezing your credit is fairly simple, but must be unfrozen or “lifted” if you want to apply for credit in the future. Your financial security is worth a little inconvenience. You will need a credit report when getting a new cell phone contract, changing utility companies which you would do after a move, applying for a job, opening a mySSA.gov account, etc. These things may not be on your mind while freezing your credit, but remember that you will need to unfreeze or lift the credit freeze to get a credit report.
To freeze your credit file, you must notify each major credit bureau. You can do this online at each of the links below or by phone. Equifax is offering free freezes until November 21, 2017. The other credit bureaus (and Equifax after November 21st) charge $10 to freeze or lift a freeze in Wisconsin. The fees may be different in different states.
The credit freeze does not apply to current creditors. This means the loans and credit cards you already have will be unaffected.
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How Freezing your Credit Protects You
Freezing your credit prevents potential creditors from being able to view your credit file until you unfreeze it. This means that even if an identity thief applies for credit in your name, they will not succeed. Thieves will not be able to use your Social Security number to get a car loan or a mortgage, or open a new credit line. Creditors want to see your credit file before giving you a loan to see if it is a risk for them. If they cannot access this information, they will not risk it. Remember, this means you will not be able to apply for credit until you unfreeze the account. The freeze also protects your credit score from being lowered by multiple credit inquiries.
Unfreezing your Credit
When you freeze your credit, you will be given a PIN that you can use to temporarily unfreeze a credit bureau account before you apply for credit. This PIN protects you because a criminal will not be able to unfreeze your account without your PIN. With the account frozen, they will be rejected and unable to unfreeze it. Unless you’re a victim of fraud, unfreezing your credit will cost $10. Fees vary by state
We recommend that you freeze your credit files at all three bureaus to protect yourself from identity theft. You will need to remember to unfreeze the accounts later before you need a credit report but it is important to freeze now for your security.
In this day and age of hacking, phishing scams and cybersecurity threats it is more important than ever to monitor all of your accounts. Each week, if not daily, you should look at the activity in your bank, brokerage and credit card accounts. Financial Strategies now provides a complimentary service to all clients to make this very simple through the use of a Personal Financial Management dashboard called Wealth Access. It is a secure website where you can monitor the activity of all of your Financial Accounts. We recommend you take advantage of this service. For more information please contact us.
- You can check your credit reports at www.annualcreditreport.com
- If there has been a breach in your account, visit https://www.identitytheft.gov/
- You can also sign up for fraud alerts through your credit card companies and credit bureaus.
- For more information on protecting yourself from cyber fraud, click here