Despite the risk and reality of identity theft making headlines more and more over the past number of years, many people still feel that identity theft will not happen to them. With the most recent breach with Equifax, estimating that over 143 million people’s sensitive information may have been compromised, the likelihood that you will be a victim of identity theft going forward has gone up significantly. What’s worse, those of us who explicitly avoid banking online were not safe from the breach – if you have a credit record, Equifax likely has sensitive information on you whether you do your banking online or not.
Because of the breach, we have many clients reaching out to us asking what they should be doing. Here are your options.
You can ‘Freeze’ your credit record at each of the three credit bureaus. This is the most effective option, locking out new inquiries on your credit report. Anyone with access to your personal information that may attempt to open new accounts in your name will not have the ability to do so, as the credit issuer will not be able to access your credit record. Upon freezing your credit record, you will be given or will select a PIN, which you can later use to ‘unfreeze’ your record.
While effective, freezing your credit can also prove to be inconvenient, especially for those who may be planning on opening new lines of credit, moving homes or jobs. For anyone to access your credit report (including utility companies, background checks for a new job, taking out or refinancing a mortgage) you will have to temporarily lift (or thaw) the freeze. Additionally, if you lose your original PIN, unfreezing your credit report will prove to be a challenge. Adding or removing the freeze may carry a small cost depending on your state (for example in New Jersey, it is free to add a freeze, but will cost $5 to remove it).
If you do wish to go ahead with a credit record freeze, you can contact the three credit bureaus via phone or their online portals to initiate the freeze. If you have young children or elderly parents, you should also consider freezing their credit records as well.
Credit Fraud Alerts
Rather than freezing your credit reports, you can set up fraud alerts at the three bureaus. Upon implementing alerts, a mark will be added to your record requiring any new creditors to go through additional verification steps to confirm your identity. Unlike the credit freeze, you (and any potential fraudster) will still be able to open new accounts on your credit record, but the additional identification step will make fraudulently opening credit on your record more difficult. Fraud alerts typically stay on your record for 90 days and must be renewed thereafter.
Credit Monitoring Services
Credit monitoring services monitor your credit report (typically monthly) and notify you if there have been any new inquiries. Monitoring services may also offer a dedicated team that can help you remove any fraudulent activity from your record if it pops up, and may also bundle in identity theft insurance. These services are not all created equally, so you should weigh your options before committing to one or another.
Because of the recent breach, Equifax is offering its monitoring service free for one year (sign up at www.EquifaxSecurity2017.com). It should be noted that many people do not feel comfortable having the company who lost their personal information monitoring their credit, there are many other credit monitoring services available. Some credit cards or membership organizations such as AAA offer free credit monitoring to their existing customers, while standalone services typically cost about $10 to $15 per month.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact your
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