Recently Equifax encountered a major security breach that has impacted an estimated 50% of our nation. We would like to share some tools and resources that our team has found to be helpful. MNMW encourages you to also research this recent discovery, and determine ways to best protect your personal credit.
One of the tools in place comes from Equifax and it is an online tool that allows you to look yourself up by your last name and last six digits of your social security number. The tool indicates whether or not your personal information may have been compromised.
Even if you were not impacted by the breach, it is an important reminder that protecting personal information in this electronic age is imperative, and something that individuals should monitor regularly.
Credit monitoring is a crucial tool and can be handled in several ways. The three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, allow individuals to pull a free credit report annually, this can be helpful if you choose to monitor your credit yourself. One of the resources for this is through a website, www.annualcreditreport.com, that provides access to your personal free annual credit report. Once you follow the steps on this website, you can then select which agency you want a credit report from. You can then review your information, and dispute any that is incorrect.
There are a number of well-respected credit monitoring companies that will monitor your credit for you. Some companies will also help you repair your credit if anything does happen. These services generally require a low monthly fee. You can access a list of some of these credit monitoring providers through this link, but keep in mind there are many reputable organizations that may not be represented, and you can research the pros and cons of each through multiple sites.
If you have been affected by the security breach, a “credit freeze” is being recommended by most professional advisors. A credit freeze requires a phone call to each credit reporting agency, and there is a $10 fee (Equifax is waiving the fee) for each agency, unless you are 65 or older. Your credit stays “frozen” unless lifted by you, which will cost $10 per agency as well. A credit freeze prevents the credit reporting agencies from issuing a credit report on you if requested.
If a credit freeze is part of a comprehensive plan you have decided on for identity protection, it may be best to make it the last piece you put in place as it may hinder other measures from being activated.
A “fraud alert” is different than a credit freeze in several ways. It’s free, and only requires a call to one agency, who in turn is responsible for contacting the other two agencies. The fraud alert is temporary (90 days), and there is no charge. A fraud alert requires lenders to take extra steps to verify your identity when someone applies for credit in your name, but it doesn’t provide a full block on your reports.
These tools are all helpful to prevent credit from being opened fraudulently using your personal information. It is also important to protect assets and credit you already have by closely monitoring your bank and credit card accounts for activity that appears unfamiliar to you.
Beware of Scams
Be aware that scammers will be quick to capitalize on this situation, in an attempt to access your personal information as well.
The Federal Trade Commission warned recently that it expected a new wave of imposter scams, with con artists posing as representatives of Equifax “calling to verify your account information.” Equifax warned that because it is providing free credit monitoring and credit freezes in the wake of its data breach, the call may sound legitimate. It is a good practice to never provide any private information over the phone.
The data made available through the Equifax breach is also likely to spur a wave of so-called “spear-phishing” scams that could put more than your credit at risk. Phishing scams are often unsophisticated email and phone cons aimed at getting you to reveal private data, such as your Social Security number. Spear-phishing cons can be far more sophisticated.
The information could also be used to file a fraudulent tax return using your Social Security Number, resulting in a significant delay of your IRS refund. If your information was compromised in the data breach, make a point of filing your annual tax return promptly.
We at MNMW know that personal information is sensitive, and hope that the information and resources in this message help you find ways to review, monitor, and protect your credit information.