The recent Equifax Credit Union breach, which has affected as many as 143 million Americans (44% of the U.S. population), has personal identity protection on the forefront of water cooler conversations.
While this massive breach is very unfortunate for all involved, it’s particularly concerning for people who may be in the market for a home at this time.
Those applying for a home loan could be severely hampered if they fall victim to identity theft during the home hunting process.
Wonder if you are one of the people affected? Here’s how to see and what to do about it.
ARE YOU AFFECTED?
2. Input your name and the last 6 digits of your social security number. If you are in the list of those affected, you’ll see this message:
3. If you are among the consumers whose data was hacked, Equifax will ask you to enroll in an identity theft protection product, TrustedID Premier. Equifax is providing one year of enrollment to all affected. If you’re affected click the enroll button and enter your information as shown here:
4. After submitting your information, you’ll reach this page.
You can expect delays in communication regarding this monitoring service given their high volume of requests at this time.
In the meantime, here's what you can do to further protect yourself from identity theft:
WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU DO?
Freeze your credit
A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. A credit freeze also offers the best protection against your data being misused because it restricts access to your records. It can cost up to $10 per bureau, and you also have to pay to lift the freeze later if you want to apply for new credit.
Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
NOTE: Freezing your credit is NOT a good option for people who will be applying for a loan soon (home, car, credit card) but it’s perfectly fine for someone who is not looking to apply for credit in the near future.
Request a freeze by contacting EACH of the three credit bureaus:
· Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
· Experian — 1‑888‑397‑3742
· TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
According to a recent article at nerdwallet.com, because a freeze can prevent fraud, it’s better than a credit monitoring service, which only alerts you that fraud might have happened. It’s the difference between using a deadbolt to keep thieves out rather than a security camera to catch them after the fact.
Place a fraud alert
If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
A fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report as long as they take steps to verify your identity. For example, if you provide a telephone number, the business must call you to verify whether you are the person making the credit request.
Fraud alerts may be effective at stopping someone from opening new credit accounts in your name, but like a freeze, they may not prevent the misuse of your existing accounts. You still need to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.
Three types of fraud alerts are available:
· Initial Fraud Alert. If you're concerned about identity theft, but haven't yet become a victim, this fraud alert will protect your credit from unverified access for at least 90 days. You may want to place a fraud alert on your file if your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial or account information are lost or stolen.
· Extended Fraud Alert. For victims of identity theft, an extended fraud alert will protect your credit for seven years.
· Active Duty Military Alert. For those in the military who want to protect their credit while deployed, this fraud alert lasts for one year.
To place a fraud alert on your credit reports, contact one of the nationwide credit reporting companies. A fraud alert is typically free. The company you call must tell the other credit reporting companies; they, in turn, will place an alert on their versions of your report.
Check your credit reports
Access your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
Monitor your current accounts
Regularly review your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
Consider signing up for a credit monitoring and identity protection service
Financial guru Dave Ramsey highly recommends Zander for its identity protection services. Per Ramsey, Zander does not just do the monitoring, but also takes the lead in the credit restoration process should the unfortunate event of identity theft occur.
Do not give out confidential info over the phone or email
Be wary of communications that claim to be from Equifax, whether by phone or email. Cyber criminals will use this time of peak concern to capitalize on people's fears and gain further access to confidential information by claiming to be a "helpful" rep from Experian.
Use strong passwords and change them often
Change the password to your email and financial accounts. Avoid simplistic, easy-to-guess passwords. Avoid using the same passwords for different accounts. Hackers can recognize repeated key strokes and quickly decode such patterns to access your personal accounts.
File your taxes early
File your taxes as soon as absolutely possible, so you can do so before a scammer does. Yes! Scammers can use your social security number to file false tax returns in order to get refund checks back from the IRS.