Equifax Breach and Freezing My Credit

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The Equifax hack has raised a number of questions about what you can do to protect yourself. Reed Fraasa, President of HIGHLAND, shares his experience with freezing his credit along with providing some helpful resources.

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there have been 7,900 data breaches involving over 1 billion records of personal information from January 2005 to September 2017.   The recent Equifax breach is one of fifteen mega breaches over the last ten years involving major corporations’ consumer data.  I finally decided to freeze both my wife’s and my data last week.  Here is what I learned from the process:
 
Freezing your credit reports will help protect you from someone who has obtained your personal data going out and applying for additional credit and running up debt in your name.  It will not protect you from someone stealing your credit card/ATM number and charging things on your account.  Freezing your credit report will not protect you from someone filing a false tax return under your Social Security Number to steel your refund.
 
Freezing your credit report will prevent you from automatically doing a few things that we take for granted.  You will need to unfreeze your credit report any time you want to apply for a credit card, apply for a home equity line or mortgage, apply for a job, apply for an apartment lease, and buy or lease a vehicle, etc.  This is not a big deal.  You simply ask the company which credit reporting agency they will be using and you unfreeze for their access, then re-freeze afterwards.  On a positive behavioral side, it will prevent you from falling for that retail store impulse credit card at the cash register to get 10% off purchase mistake.
 
There was no charge to freeze my credit at any of the three bureaus, but I expect there may be a small fee to unfreeze it.  I’ve seen on the internet a fee of $3-$10 quoted. Freezing and unfreezing your credit report will have no negative impact on your credit score.
 
Equifax – 800-349-9960 or freeze.equifax.com
You do not need to first set up an account on Equifax. Follow online instructions and complete online form.  At the end for the confirmation, you will see a pop-up window with currier font with a short paragraph explaining that you have successfully frozen your credit.  NOTE: buried in the paragraph is the PIN that Equifax just issued to you. There is an option to print the page and save it. DON’T LOSE THIS – YOU WILL NEED IT TO UNFREEZE YOUR CREDIT.
 
Experian – 888-397-3742 or experian.com/freeze
You do not need to first set up an account on Experian. Follow online instructions and complete online form. You will have the option to have Experian issue a PIN or you can name your own PIN.  They will also ask you a series of credit history questions to verify you are who you say you are (similar to Social Security Administration website). You will be brought to a confirmation page at the end with your PIN number at the top.  Print this page and save it.  DON’T LOSE THIS – YOU WILL NEED IT TO UNFREEZE YOUR CREDIT.
 
TransUnion – 888-909-8872 or freeze.transunion.com
You will need to create an account first before freezing your credit report.  Once you have an account, you can proceed to freezing your credit report. You will have the option to have TransUnion issue a PIN or you can name your own PIN. You will be brought to a confirmation page at the end with your PIN number at the top.  Print this page and save it.  DON’T LOSE THIS – YOU WILL NEED IT TO UNFREEZE YOUR CREDIT.
 
In addition to freezing our credit reports, I monitor our credit and bank accounts with CREDIT KARMA, creditkarma.com.  It is a free site, and you can add your financial and credit accounts to the site to monitor transaction activity as well.  Avoid the “My Recommendations” section and “Credit Cards” section.  These are all sales tools to get you to buy things.  The site is free so these extras are how they make money. If you freeze your credit report Credit Karma will not update your report, but it is still a good monitoring service.
 
If you need help with any of this, or would like to discuss your personal planning, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your Wealth Advisor at HIGHLAND and Upswing.