Equifax, one of the “Big 3” credit reporting agencies (including Experian and TransUnion respectively) announced a massive data breach impacting an estimated 143 million consumers. Experts have declared this to be the worst consumer data breach in U.S. history. The breach means that nefarious characters now have access to Social Security numbers, dates of birth and address information of 143 million Americans.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey described the breach of Equifax to be “the most brazen failure to protect consumer data we have ever seen,” according to NPR.org. Several state AGs and the Federal Trade Commission have opened investigations into Equifax’s practices and policies. Members of Congress have demanded criminal investigations and a full accounting of what exactly happened to allow the personal information of 100+ million people to become accessible to criminals.
Now is the time to take action and protect yourself and the health of your credit. One of the best tips being recommended my multiple financial advisors is to put a credit freeze on reports of Equifax, Experience, and TransUnion.
What Exactly is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze essentially prevents new credit accounts or loans from being opened in your name. After placing the freeze, you will set up or receive a unique personal identification number (PIN) to remove the freeze, according to Forbes.com.
A credit freeze will not help or harm your credit score. A credit freeze protects you more than enhanced monitoring or fraud alerts. With enhanced monitoring, agencies send an email or text if someone attempts to apply for a loan or account in your name.
Credit Freeze Not Free
There is a cost to freeze your credit and those costs vary from state-to-state. Residents of Virginia and D.C. typically pay $10 for a credit freeze and $0 to unfreeze the reports later on. Residents of Maryland pay $5 to freeze and $5 to unfreeze the reports. However, Equifax agreed to waive its freeze fees until November 21, 2017. Experian and TransUnion have not (as of yet) offered to waive their fees. If you were the victim of identity theft, you do not have to pay a fee in any state.
Unfreezing your credit will be necessary at some point in for you to apply for a new credit account or loan (e.g., mortgage, credit card, auto loan, etc.).
Other Steps You Should Take
In addition to freezing your credit, it is important to regularly check your credit reports. You are entitled to a complimentary, no-cost credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer reporting companies. You should also monitor every bank statement, put fraud alerts on your credit cards, and file tax returns as early as possible to try to prevent fraudulent filings, according to the aforementioned NPR.org article.
Do Not Delay
The moral of this blog is that you need to be proactive and take action. Just crossing your fingers and hoping you will not be effected is the wrong strategy. You need to protect your identity and your credit score