12 Sep Protecting Yourself Following the Equifax Data Breach
Last week, consumer credit reporting agency Equifax reported a major security breach, affecting data for more than 140 million Americans. The breach reportedly exposed personal data that included names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers and other information that could be used by criminals to obtain credit cards, loans and other forms of credit using the stolen information. In the aftermath of this latest breach, you may be among the many people asking how they can protect themselves against this type fraud. One strong option available is to freeze your credit report.
Simply put, placing a freeze on your credit report restricts access to who can view the report. Since lenders typically pull a credit report before extending credit, freezing a report will generally prevent new credit accounts from being opened. Freezing a credit report does not prevent existing lenders from viewing your report and consumers should remain vigilant for signs of fraud on these accounts.
In order to place a freeze on your credit report, you must contact each of three national credit reporting companies. Fees vary for each, based on the state where you live, but generally cost between $5 and $10. You can initiate a freeze either by calling or through the website of each company – information on each is provided below. After you initiate the freeze, the credit bureaus will provide you with a PIN number that you will need to use to later unfreeze – or “thaw” – your credit report.
Keep in mind that freezing your credit report will also prevent you from opening new accounts. If you are applying for credit, you will need to contact the credit bureaus and request to thaw your credit report so that the lender can access it, which will incur another fee. While the process can often be completed quickly, the credit reporting agencies recommend that you allow up to three days, meaning you will need to plan ahead for any new credit applications (not necessarily a bad thing). Outside of lenders issuing credit, credit reports may sometimes be pulled by other entities including rental car companies and employers as part of hiring process.
While it can help reduce risks, placing a freeze on your credit report is not a guarantee of protection against fraud. It’s important to take precautions with your personal information, both physical and digital, and monitor your credit accounts. We strongly recommend that people obtain a copy of their credit reports regularly to identify potential issues or fraud. You are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report annually from each of the three national credit reporting companies at www.annualcreditreport.com.