You may be one of the more than 143 million Americans whose private information was exposed in this year’s massive Equifax hack. Enough data was stolen to put your identity at risk including Social Security numbers, birth dates, address info, and more. Also, nearly 11 million drivers license files were stolen which makes identity theft even easier. Were you a victim of the hack and what can you do to protect yourself? Today we look at freezing your credit and whether this is enough.
Identity theft is a real possibility in the wake of Equifax hack
Based on the density and diversity of information nabbed by hackers in the Equifax breach, you might very well face identity theft in the future. Identity thieves can ruin your credit, steal your cash, and rack up debt in your name. It’s common for identity thieves to open new credit accounts and lines of credit rather than trying to take over your existing accounts. If your Social Security number, name, and address were stolen, you might have new accounts already opened under your name and piling on the debt.
Freezing your credit may help
A credit freeze happens when you ask a credit bureau to lock down your credit report because you feel you’re at risk of identity theft. When your credit file is frozen, that means the bureau cannot release information to potential new creditors. So if someone has your personal information and applies for a credit card using your data, if your credit is frozen, the new account will be refused due to lack of information to make a credit decision.
You must freeze all the bureaus, not just Equifax
The problem is that even though only one of the three bureaus was hacked, the data could be used to access your credit file on any of Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian’s data stores. When you apply for new credit, some lenders and card issuers always pull from one of the three. Some randomize which bureau they pull from so if your data was breached, you should consider a freeze on all three since you don’t know how your data might be used and which credit bureau might be used to set up a new account.
The downside of a credit freeze
There is one significant downside to freezing your credit – what if you want to open a new account or take out a loan? To open a new account for yourself, you must unfreeze your credit report so the potential lender or card issuer can run your credit and see your score and data. However, if you unfreeze your report, that also means it gives an identity thief a window of opportunity. If possible, ask the creditor which bureau they use so you can unfreeze just that one. If they randomize or won’t tell you, you can unfreeze all three then refreeze ASAP after they run the credit check to mitigate risk.
A credit freeze may not be free
If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you should be able to freeze your credit at no cost. However, being a victim of the data breach isn’t enough to warrant the waiver of a fee, in many cases. Equifax pledged to cover one month of freezing your credit for those affected by the breach, but that doesn’t help in the long run since identity thieves can save your data to use later. Freezing may require the payment of one fee to lock your file then another fee later when you want to unfreeze it.
You paying to freeze your credit when it was Equifax’s mistake seems unfair. However, it’s better than being a victim of identity theft. If you’re rebuilding your credit after bankruptcy, you shouldn’t take an unnecessary risk when you’re on the road to financial recovery. To find out more about re-establishing your credit after bankruptcy or another debt crisis, check out Credit Score Keys.