As you have probably already learned, Equifax recently announced that it was the victim of a large-scale hack. The hackers were able to acquire names, social security numbers, birth dates, home addresses and some driver’s license information. In addition, credit card numbers for approximately 200,000 consumers were also hacked. If your credit card information was hacked, you’ll receive notification in the mail. Otherwise, you will have to use Equifax’s hack checker website, (www.equifaxsecurity2017.com), to learn if your information was potentially compromised.
You can also visit the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website (www.consumer.ftc.gov) for facts about the breach and further tips on what to do.
We have compiled a list of definitions, information, and suggestions about steps you can take to protect your information.
Credit Reporting Agencies and Contact Number
Fraud Alert Contact: 1-800-525-6285
Credit Freeze Contact: 1-800-349-9960
Fraud Alert Contact: 1-888-397-3742
Credit Freeze Contact: 1-888-397-3742
Fraud Alert Contact: 1-800-680-7289
Credit Freeze Contact: 1-888-909-8872
Credit Fraud Alert:
A fraud alert won’t lock your credit file. It alerts anyone reviewing your credit file to contact you before opening a new account. Fraud alerts may be effective at stopping someone from opening new credit accounts in your name, but they may not prevent the misuse of your existing accounts. You should still monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.
Fraud alerts are free. You can request an initial 90-day fraud. A 90-day fraud alert will expire automatically unless you renew it. If you are an identity theft victim you are entitled to an extended alert. To place an alert, contact one of the three credit reporting agencies. The agency you contact must inform the other two agencies that you have requested an alert. Each credit reporting agency will send you a letter confirming that a fraud alert has been placed on your account.
Some reports warn that you should not use Equifax’s site to place your initial 90-day fraud alert as this Equifax site may still be vulnerable to hacking.
A credit score is a statistical number that evaluates a consumer’s creditworthiness based on credit history. A lender uses credit scores to evaluate the probability that an individual will repay his or her debts. Credit scores range from 300 to 850; the higher the score, the more financially trustworthy a person is considered to be.
A number of credit card companies can provide your credit score to you. You can also obtain a free credit score through CreditKarma.com, CreditSesame.com and Credit.com. Be wary though of sites that require your credit card number as they may automatically sign you up for a credit monitoring service.
Under federal law, you are allowed one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax,
Under federal law, you are allowed one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Instead of contacting each credit agency individually, go to annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
A credit freeze blocks anyone (including yourself) from accessing your credit file until you unfreeze it using a PIN or password. Because potential creditors can’t check your file, a credit freeze generally stops identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name or making changes to your existing accounts. You should still monitor all bank, credit card, insurance statements, etc. for fraudulent transactions.
You must place a freeze with all three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. When a thief tries to open new credit in your name, the lender can pull your credit report from any of the three credit reporting agencies. If you’ve only frozen your credit file with one agency and the lender checks with the other two, your freeze will do you no good.
You’ll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. Fees vary by state but generally range between $3 and $10. State law will determine how long the credit freeze lasts.
A freeze may not be for everyone due to the cost and hassle. Each time you allow a company to check your credit – when applying for a job, obtaining a mortgage, buying insurance, renting an apartment, etc., you’ll have to unfreeze your file. Each time you freeze and unfreeze your file, you will pay a fee. Additionally, the time to place a freeze or unfreeze your file can take a few days.
When you place the freeze you will create or be provided a unique PIN or password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place as you will need it each time you unfreeze and refreeze your credit.
A credit freeze does not affect your credit score.
Informs you when there is activity on your credit file at the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This can help you take steps to resolve the problem before it grows. Usually credit monitoring will alert you when: a company checks your credit history; a new loan or credit card account is opened in your name; a creditor or debt collector says your payment is late; public records show that you have filed for bankruptcy; there is a legal judgment against you; your credit limits change or your personal information, like your name, address or phone number, changes. Credit monitoring does not stop someone from opening accounts in your name.
Credit monitoring only warns you about the activity that shows up on your credit report. However, many types of identity theft won’t be revealed via credit monitoring. For example, credit monitoring won’t tell you if an identity thief withdraws money from your bank account, or uses your Social Security number to file a tax return and collect your refund.
Services and prices will vary by credit monitoring company so it pays to shop around. Some services monitor your credit report at only one of the credit reporting agencies. So, for example, if your service only monitors TransUnion, you won’t be alerted to items that appear on your Equifax or Experian files.
Identity Monitoring and Theft Protection
While no service can protect you from having your personal information stolen, they can offer monitoring services. By reviewing credit reports, social security number usage, and other reports, monitoring services watch for signs that an identity thief may be using your personal information in ways that may, or may not, show up on your credit report. For example, identity monitoring services may tell you when your information shows up in: change of address requests, court or arrest records; orders for new utility, cable or wireless services; payday loan applications; check cashing requests; social media; or websites that identity thieves use to trade stolen information. Most monitoring services cannot alert you to tax or government benefits fraud, including Medicare, Medicaid, welfare and Social Security frauds. Some companies also offer recovery services which help you deal with the effects of identity theft after it happens. Please note that services and fees vary by provider. Most identity theft protection services charge $25 to $60 per month.
Equifax Is Offering the Following Services Free of Charge for a Limited Time
Equifax has stated that it would waive credit freeze fees for 30 days. If you want a free credit freeze from Equifax, contact them at 1-800-349-9960 or online at www.freeze.equifax.com.
Identity Theft Protection Service
If you enroll by November 21, 2017, Equifax is offering a free, one-year subscription to TrustedID, an identity protection company it has owned and operated since 2013. If you enroll in TrustedID, it will provide you with copies of your Equifax credit report, let you “lock” your Equifax credit report, provide credit monitoring of your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports, provide internet scanning for your Social Security number and provide identity theft insurance. TrustedID should not automatically renew after one year, but this has not yet been verified.
Suggestions – How You Can Protect Your Information
- Check Equifax’s website, equifaxsecurity2017.com, to determine if your information has potentially been hacked. Since it may take some time for consumers to know if their information has been impacted, you should revisit this site periodically.
- Get free credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. If you stagger your requests by getting one every four months (for example: September – Equifax; December – TransUnion; March – Experian) you will be able to monitor your credit reports at no costs at different points over a 12 month period. Go to each company’s website to request or visit AnnualCreditReport.com, the only authorized website for free credit reports.
- Obtain your free credit score through an existing credit card account or one of the websites referenced above.
- Set a fraud alert by signing up for a free, 90-day fraud alert with one of the credit agencies. You may renew the fraud alert every 90 days.
- With an understanding of the costs and hassles involved, consider placing a credit freeze on your credit files. You must call each of the credit reporting agencies to freeze your credit file.
- If you want to both freeze your credit and get monitoring services, sign up for the monitoring services before placing the credit freeze. That way, the monitoring services can get access to your credit files. Otherwise, you may not be able to complete the service’s account creation process. If you lift the freeze to give the service access, restore it as soon as possible.
- Change your passwords and log-in information on your financial accounts. Don’t use the same user ID and passwords for all your accounts.
- Carefully review statements for your credit card, bank, retirement, brokerage, and other accounts every month for evidence of fraudulent activity such as unexplained withdrawals. Or log in and check them even more frequently. If you see unexplained activity, contact the company immediately.
- If you are still concerned or believe your account information has been compromised, contact your financial company(ies) to discuss what additional steps can be taken to protect your information. If you request your account restricted, be aware of how that may impact your ability to effect transactions or withdrawals. Many financial companies already have processes in place before they allow distributions to third-party accounts.
- Data from the Equifax breach can be used to steal your benefits from private health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid when the identity thief uses your coverage to pay for his medical treatment and prescriptions. Get copies of your medical records from providers to establish a baseline of your health before your records may be compromised. Check back regularly to see whether providers you didn’t use are listed and whether you’ve been charged for treatments you never received.
- Review your free annual MIB Consumer File, which contains medical and personal information about you reported by health, life, disability and other member insurers. Do the same for your Milliman Intelliscript report, which tracks your history of prescription drug purchases.
- Ask each of your health plans and medical providers for the “accounting of disclosures’ related to your medical records. This tells who got copies of your records from the provider. The law allows you to order one free copy from each medical provider each year.
- Review the explanation of benefits (EOB) statements you get from your health insurance providers. Or, if available, sign up for your insurer’s secure online portal and regularly review the explanation of benefits, which shows which treatments you received when and from which providers. If you see treatments you never received, immediately tell your insurer and medical providers. While on the secure online portal, sign up for fraud alerts via email or text message, which will keep you apprised of benefit payments.
- Using your driver’s license number, an identity thief can create a bogus driver’s license and hang moving violations on you, or with further information, create bogus checks which are “verified” by a cashier by writing your license number on the bad check. You can protect yourself by asking the motor vehicles department to give you a copy of your driving record – you may have to pay a fee for this. To determine if any bad checks are attributed to your driver’s license, request your free annual consumer report from each of the big three check verification companies: ChexSystems, Certegy, and TeleCheck. If you find that your driver’s license has been used fraudulently, file a police report and ask the motor vehicles department to flag your license number. Also request a new driver’s license number. If you find fraudulent checks on your record, call the Identity Theft Resource Center at 888-400-5530 for assistance.
- Be aware of the mail and bills you receive. If you stop receiving any mail or bill that you would normally receive, this could indicate that your address was changed.
- Be wary of scammers attempting to obtain information from you over the phone or via email. Some scammers may send fake “free” offers in order to steal your information. If in doubt, contact the company directly using its known phone number or website.
- Consider taking advantage of free identity theft protection services that businesses and the government may offer you after a data breach. You may wish to engage an identity theft protection service on an ongoing basis depending on your circumstances.
- Thieves with your Social Security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, and information from your credit report can register as you at my Social Security, the government website that gives access to your benefits account. Obtain an Identity Protection PIN from the IRS which is a code that must be filed with your legitimate return for it to be accepted by filing a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. An identity thief can’t file a fraudulent return without your PIN. However, you can only get a PIN if a fraudulent return has previously been filed in your name, if the IRS determines that you’re an ID-fraud victim, or if you live in a high tax-related identity theft locale such as Washington, D.C,; Florida or Georgia. The IRS has not said whether those affected by the Equifax breach would qualify for a PIN.
- With your Social Security number, thieves can file false income tax returns in your name, take bogus deductions and steal the resulting refund. File your taxes as early as possible in case your Social Security number and tax information have been stolen. If possible, obtain an Identity Protection PIN from the IRS.
- Periodically view your IRS account information which shows when returns were filed and which refund payments were made. If you suspect fraud, contact your local IRS office using the Taxpayer Assistance Center Office Locator.
- If you suspect that you are a victim of identity theft, visit identitytheft.gov. This is a government-sponsored website providing free personal recovery plans and step-by-step guidance to help identity theft victims recover.
- Report any identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and to your local police department. To contact the FTC, call 1-877-438-4338 or visit identitytheft.gov. Provide local police with:
- A copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report
- Photo identification and proof of address
- Any other proof you have of identity theft.
- Retain a copy of the police report in a safe location.
Information provided herein is general in nature and is intended for informational purposes only; Bridgeworth, LLC does not provide legal, health, investment or tax advice. Bridgeworth, LLC makes no representation as to the accuracy of the information provided and assumes no liability for any damages or loss arising from its use.
Bridgeworth, LLC is not affiliated with any of the credit reporting agencies listed.
Bridgeworth, LLC is a registered investment advisor.