Last week, it was disclosed that hackers breached the Equifax database and stole personal information tied to 143 million people. This breach reinforces the importance of proactively protecting your credit. Here are two essential steps you can take:
Place Security on Your Three Credit Bureau Accounts
You can put either a credit freeze or a fraud alert on your accounts.
A credit freeze is the best solution for individuals who do not anticipate opening new lines of credit in the foreseeable future. A freeze blocks anyone from accessing your credit reports without your permission. Fees to freeze (and subsequently unfreeze) your account vary by state but commonly range from $0 to $15 per bureau.
You need to call all three credit bureaus to place a credit freeze on your accounts. For most, the computerized menu is easy to navigate. When you call, you and your spouse should have your Social Security number, birthdate, zip code and address readily available. Contact information for each of the credit bureaus is listed below:
- TransUnion – 888.909.8872; https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp
- Equifax – 800.349.9960; https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
- Experian – 888.397.37426 (yes, the suffix is 5 digits); https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
Each bureau will provide a unique personal identification number (PIN) that you can use to unfreeze your credit file should you need to apply for new lines of credit. You will want to store your PIN in a place that you can easily remember in case you need to retrieve it. Unfreezing your credit without your PIN can be a very frustrating and time-consuming process.
Alternatively, you can place a fraud alert with the major credit bureaus. This free service will warn creditors that you may be an identity theft victim. The credit bureaus will do their best to verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you. The downsides of this approach are that the fraud alert must be renewed every 90 days, and may not be as secure as a credit freeze.
Request an Annual Credit Report
We encourage you to request a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies at www.annualcreditreport.com. Upon review, if you identify any suspicious accounts or activity that you don’t recognize, please contact the credit bureau.
Placing a security freeze and requesting your annual credit reports will take time. However, these simple protection measures will save you months of time and energy should you find yourself a victim of identity theft.