Tips for Identity Theft Prevention
In the wake of the Equifax data breach, you may be feeling panicked, wondering if you are one of the 143 million consumers whose personal information was exposed in the hack. At this point, months later, you might be one of many who checked their status in the hack and the results came back, “likely.”
To summarize: Equifax, one of the nation’s three credit reporting companies, experienced a breach lasting from mid-May through July of this year. Those responsible for the hack accessed consumers’ names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, addresses, and some driver’s license numbers. Of the 143 million people affected (some in Canada and the UK), more than 200,000 had their credit card numbers stolen.
That is a lot information taken (nearly half of the United States’ adult population) and, like many fellow Credit Union members, you have probably attempted to contact Equifax to get more details and to have your credit reports reconciled to no avail. Unfortunately, accessing Equifax online or calling the company directly has been unsuccessful for many due to the amount of people who are all trying to do the same thing.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for a major hack to start protecting your information; there are preventative ways to help you monitor the safety of your identity. Here are ways to help you stay vigilant of your personal information:
Review your credit reports regularly
The best place to access your credit reports is through annualcreditreport.com, a website authorized by federal law and devoted to providing transparency between consumers and the three credit companies. Those companies are Experian, TransUnion, and, of course, Equifax.
This website allows all consumers to access one free credit report from each of the companies every year. To stay on top of what is happening to your credit history – good, bad, or inaccurate – the Credit Union suggests you grab a different report at 4-month intervals. For example, let’s say you begin accessing your reports at the start of 2018. You would get your first report in January (i.e. Equifax), the next one in May (i.e. TransUnion), and then the final one in September (i.e. Experian). Four months later, it will be January 2019 and you can start the process over. It doesn’t matter which order you grab your reports, but it does matter if you are grabbing your reports regularly or not. This process is one of the very best ways for all consumers to know exactly what their credit report reads, good or bad, and provides an opportunity to reconcile your information with all three companies directly.
You can set up a free fraud alert with any of the three credit companies. What this alert does is require all companies to call you (make sure your phone number on file is up-to-date) to verify your information before extending any new credit. Here is what you need to know to add an alert to your reports:
- Contact one of the credit companies to request a fraud alert – the initial alert lasts 90 days
- Make sure the credit company you reach out to will contact the other two companies to add an alert to their reports (they have to do this)
- Mark your calendar for 90 days out to renew the fraud alert once it expires
A credit freeze blocks everyone, including yourself, from accessing your credit information. You will receive a PIN to use every time you need to unfreeze and refreeze your account, so accessing your information will not be gone for good. Unlike the fraud alert, a freeze will last indefinitely unless you unfreeze your information or cancel the action all together. A credit freeze is also likely to cost you money, based on state laws. Generally, the fee is somewhere between $5 and $10 for each time you freeze your reports. Because of the recent data breach, Equifax is giving consumers a free credit freeze on its reports through January 31, 2018.