Your financial well-being is our highest priority. In light of the recent security breach at Equifax—which potentially exposed 143 million Social Security numbers, birth dates, and other private information—we have put together some guidelines to help you respond appropriately.
Equifax has set up a website for determining if you were affected. There have been reports of past problems, but it seems to be working properly now. However, whether or not you were impacted this time, protecting yourself against future breaches is still important. We’ve laid out the best options for doing so.
Third-Party Credit Monitoring Services
Third-party monitoring services (like Lifelock or Identity Guard) proactively monitor your credit and alert you to potentially fraudulent activity, for a fee. Many providers will also help you restore your credit if you do become victimized by identity theft. Some offer additional services such as black market website surveillance, address change verifications, checking and savings account application alerts, and consolidated credit bureau monitoring.
If you aren’t utilizing a third-party monitoring service, you should consider taking precautions directly with the three major credit reporting agencies—TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. You can consult with each of them on your own for little or no cost. However, doing this will require sustained vigilance on your part. With a monitoring agency, you don’t need to constantly review your credit reports.
Credit Monitoring On Your Own
A first step to consider is placing a fraud alert with the three credit reporting companies.
- What is a fraud alert? A precaution notifying lenders to contact you and verify your identity before approving any new credit application in your name.
- How much does it cost? There is no charge for adding fraud alerts to your credit report.
- How long does it last? An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days, but may be renewed for 90 more. If you have been an identity theft victim, you may apply for a seven-year extended fraud alert.
When you place a fraud alert with any credit reporting company, they’ll notify the others to add alerts.
The next level of protection is to request a security freeze, or credit freeze. In order for this to be effective, you must contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies individually.
- What is a credit freeze? Only those you authorize can view your credit report. You use a secure code, similar to a PIN number, to allow access. However, companies that do business with you can still access your credit report data.
- How much does it cost? Equifax has agreed to waive fees for all security freezes initiated by November 21, 2017. They are also offering potential breach victims one free year of their TrustedID Premier service, which provides credit file monitoring and identity theft protection. Otherwise, charges are minimal but depend on your state of residence. Some states also charge for lifting the freeze or providing a replacement PIN.
- How long does it last? In most cases, freezes are in place until you remove them. In some states, they are only in effect for seven years, with options for renewal.
When you apply for new credit, you need to request a lift in the security freeze. Loan approval may be delayed, because “thawing” can take several days.
A credit lock functions like a credit freeze, but offers additional convenience.
- What is a credit lock? You control access to your data by instantly locking and unlocking your account online when you want to allow a legitimate credit inquiry.
- How much does it cost? There are service fees, although Equifax is waiving all fees through November 21, 2017.
- How long does it last? As long as you continue to pay the fee.
Some Final Thoughts
As data breaches become more commonplace, protecting your financial security requires careful consideration. Whether you choose to lock your credit report accounts and manage them yourself, or leave them unlocked and sign up with a third-party credit monitoring service, we strongly advise you to take precautions.
When it comes to cybersecurity, vigilance is our number one weapon. You have the power to protect yourself and your loved ones. Please share this article with friends and family.
If you have questions, or if we can be of service in any way, please contact us.