Some data breaches have more long-term effects than others. For instance, as frustrating as it can be when your credit card information is stolen, you can cancel the card and get a new number. But when it’s the kind of personal information that was compromised in the Equifax hack, the answer is not so simple and the threat is indefinite. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to protect yourself long-term (and repair the damage to your credit, need be).
Monitor your credit
Initially, Equifax said that hacked data included names, dates of birth, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and credit card account numbers. But in more recent reports, it’s been revealed that hacked info may also include driver’s license state and issue date, as well as tax ID numbers. That’s an awful lot of information that could be used to commit all sorts of fraudulent acts against you, including the opening of fraudulent credit accounts in your name. Fortunately, this type of fraud can be detected through close credit monitoring:
- If someone tries to open a credit account in your name – and the creditor checks your credit first, as most do – it will show up as a hard inquiry on your credit reports.
- If someone successfully opens a credit account in your name, it will show up as an open account on your credit reports.
While detection is not prevention, the sooner you discover a fraudulent act, the more quickly you can respond to minimize damage (i.e., notify the credit bureaus, credit card issuer, FTC). Credit monitoring services can help you do just that.
1) Decide whether you want to sign up for free Equifax TrustedID Premier*
The Equifax response to the hack includes 12 months of free credit monitoring. Equifax TrustedID Premier not only covers your Equifax credit, but also Experian and TransUnion. It also includes the ability to lock and unlock your reports, an internet scan for your social security number, and $1 million of identity theft insurance. You can sign up at EquifaxSecurity2017.com.
Unfortunately, as helpful as this might be, there are a few of reasons why consumers may not feel comfortable doing this:
- It’s hard to share personal information necessary to start this credit monitoring with a company that just had the personal information of 143 million consumers hacked.
- It took Equifax over a month to notify the public about the hack, which doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in them.
Fortunately, you have plenty of other credit monitoring options. Plus, even if you sign up for Equifax TrustedID Premier, remember that it’s only free to you for 12 months. After that, you’ll want another alternative, which you may want to go ahead and sign up for now. Because once your credit freezes are in place (covered in the next section), credit monitoring sites won’t be able to access your credit to start the service. You can lift the freezes anytime, but that’s an extra step you can avoid by signing up for all your credit monitoring now.
2) Sign up for Credit Karma free credit monitoring*
There are numerous free credit monitoring services you can use, but none of them monitor all three credit bureaus, so you will need to sign up for multiple services. One of them is Credit Karma, which monitors both TransUnion and Equifax. This will give you regular access to your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports and scores. You will also be notified of credit report activity that could indicate ID theft.
Note, sign up for Credit Karma before you place the credit freeze on your reports so that they are not denied access to your credit files. If you have already placed your freezes, you can unfreeze them then re-freeze after your Credit Karma sign-up is complete. (Freezing and unfreezing of your credit files may come with a nominal fee; it varies by state.)
3) Sign up for Experian CreditWorks Basic free credit monitoring*
The best supplement to Credit Karma is Experian CreditWorks Basic. This will give you regular access to your Experian credit report. You will also be notified of credit report activity that could indicate ID theft.
*If you’d rather not use the free credit monitoring through Equifax, Credit Karma, or Experian CreditWorks Basic, you can always pay for it. All three credit bureaus offer paid credit monitoring services. In this case, it’s free through Equifax, but you can also sign up for the paid services of Experian and TransUnion.
Beyond that, there are plenty of other paid credit monitoring services. In fact, some security experts recommend you go through an independent third-party service (as opposed to the credit bureaus), like LifeLock or IDShield.
4) Use AnnualCreditReport.com
By law, you are entitled to free copies of your credit reports – from all three of the big credit bureaus – every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com. That said, checking your credit reports once a year simply isn’t frequent enough to catch fraudulent activity quickly enough to minimize damage. So it is highly recommended that you supplement these annual free copies with a service (free or paid) that monitors your reports all year long.
5) Request your Innovis credit report
Though we talk most about the big three national credit bureaus, there is another that warrants attention. Innovis may not be used by creditors nearly as often as Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax, but “the fourth credit bureau,” as it is known, is used enough for you to care what’s on your reports. Because if an identity thief opens an account in your name through a creditor that does use Innovis, you need to know about it and that can only happen if you’re keeping an eye on your Innovis report.
As with Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, you can request a free copy of your Innovis credit report every 12 months.
6) Request your ChexSystems credit report
It’s not just fraudulent credit accounts you need to be worried about in the wake of the
Equifax hack. It’s fraudulent bank accounts, too. They won’t show up in your credit reports, but they could show up in your ChexSystems consumer report. When customers mishandle their accounts, banks report them to ChexSystems. So this could be a good way for you to spot fraudulent accounts opened in your name, assuming, of course, they have been “mishandled” by the fraudster (non-sufficient funds, unpaid feeds, charge-off).
As with credit reports, you can request a free copy of your ChexSystems consumer report every 12 months.
Freeze your credit
While monitoring your credit will help you catch fraudulent activity, freezing your credit can actually help you prevent it. Most creditors will not extend new credit without doing a credit check first. That’s what makes a credit freeze – also known as a security freeze – such a powerful tool.
If you have a credit freeze in place, creditors are denied access to your credit reports, and those reports cannot be used to generate credit scores. So if a fraudster applies for credit in your name, they will likely be denied because the lender has no credit access.
Prior to the Equifax hack, security experts were already recommending that every consumer place a security freeze on their credit files. Post-Equifax hack, it should be a given.
That said, it’s important to go into knowing exactly what to expect. Yes, there are pros, but there are some cons, too.
Pros of a credit freeze
- Restricts access to your credit reports
- You can still access your own credit reports
- It has zero impact on your credit score
- It will give you peace of mind
Cons of a credit feeze
- It doesn’t prevent fraudsters from using existing credit accounts (you’ll have to monitor your credit reports and financial accounts to catch that)
- You’ll have to lift the freeze when you want to apply for credit so that the lender(s) can access your reports
- You won’t be able register for new credit monitoring while a freeze is in place (so be sure and sign up for credit monitoring before you put the security freezes in place)
- Fees may apply, to place the freeze and to lift it
The process for placing a credit freeze is usually pretty quick and easy:
- Use the online request form
- Provide your personal information
- Pay any necessary fee (if it’s not free, it could be anywhere from $3-$15 per bureau)
- Store your PIN in a safe place (you’ll need it to lift the freeze, so don’t lose it)
In some cases, the bureau may not be able to process your request online. Or maybe you’d rather not do it online anyway. In either case, call the bureau or send your request via regular mail. Just remember, once your credit freeze is in place, you’ll have to lift it before applying for credit and you can’t expect it to be immediate. So plan ahead and request it be lifted 3 business days prior to when you need it.
Credit freeze links
Find more helpful security freeze info here, including bureau phone numbers, mailing addresses, fee breakdowns by state, and the difference between a security freeze and a fraud alert.
Monitor your credit card accounts
Again, some credit card account numbers were among the information compromised in the Equifax hack. So it is essential that you monitor your accounts more closely than ever.
12) Cancel your compromised credit card, need be
If your credit card number was among the 209,000 compromised in the hack, Equifax will notify you by mail. If you receive this notification, contact your credit card issuer so that they can cancel the card and get you a new one with a different account number.
13) Check your online credit card accounts regularly
The sooner you can detect fraudulent activity on your credit card account, the sooner you can report it and minimize the damage. For this reason, it is imperative that you not limit your monitoring of credit card activity to your monthly statements. Use your online access to check your accounts on a regular basis – at least weekly, though daily would be ideal.
14) Set up fraud alerts
If someone has used your credit card account fraudulently, you want to know about it right away. Sure, you may catch it the next time you check your account activity, but why wait? Set up a fraud alert that lets you know – via email or text – when a transaction is made over a certain dollar amount.
Just keep in mind that it’s not just high dollar amounts you need to concern yourself with. Often, fraudsters will charge small amounts to verify the validity of a card then charge a higher dollar amount later. For this reason, you may want to set your alert to zero, giving you the heads up any time a transaction is made to your account.
Report fraudulent activity immediately
If you discover fraudulent activity, act immediately so that you can minimize the damage.
15) Notify the company through which the fraudulent activity took place
They will take steps to protect your account. For instance, a credit card company can cancel your card and issue you a new credit card number.
16) File an Identity Theft Report
The FTC has a user-friendly online process for submitting an Identity Theft Report. Just be prepared to answer how your stolen information was used (i.e., to open a credit card account, bank account, or utility account; file a tax return; to get government services; etc.). You may also want to file a report with your local police.
17) Place fraud alerts on your credit reports
A fraud alert tells potential creditors to check with you before extending new credit, just to verify that you were, indeed, the person who made the credit request.
18) Dispute the fraudulent listings with the credit bureaus
If the fraudulent act has resulted in incorrect listings on your credit reports, let the credit bureaus know about it. Providing a copy of your Identity Theft Report and/or police report should help.
19) File your taxes early
The information compromised in the Equifax hack is enough for a thief to file a tax return in your name. While there is no guaranteed means of preventing them from doing so, you can try and beat them to the punch by filing your tax return early.
Overwhelmed? Prioritize. First and foremost, sign up for some kind of credit monitoring. Then freeze your credit reports and keep a close eye on your credit card accounts. None of this guarantees fraud prevention, but it helps.