The Equifax hack is a nightmare for more than 143 MILLION Americans whose data was stolen. More than HALF of America is at risk now that their personal information is “out there”.
Driver’s license numbers… social security numbers… dates of birth… current and former addresses… employment history… income data… lists of creditors…
The risk goes way beyond just someone using your name to take on fraudulent lines of credit or use your current credit lines for themselves. The mix of data that was stolen is exactly what crooks need to create completely new identities to sell on the black market.
Someone could already be out there walking around pretending to be you. But, chances are, your data is still too hot to use. It may be 5, 10, or even 15 years before your personal information is cloned to create a false identity.
Someone pretending to be you is creepy enough, but imagine what might happen if they commit a serious crime while living under your identity? Or gets on a terrorist watch list? Or is killed in an accident and all of a sudden, you wake up one morning to read your own obituary?
Sounds like stuff out of a paperback spy novel, but it happens all the time.
You can protect yourself. But Equifax’s offer to give you one year of their credit monitoring is NOT the way to do it. (More on that in a minute.)
Here is what you SHOULD do…
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Create a Credit Fraud Alert for all three credit reporting agencies. You only have to do it for one of the “big three” and they will share the alert with the other two. (Just don’t do it at Equifax – keep reading to find out why.)
A credit fraud alert is free and lasts for 90-days. You can renew the alert on your credit file every 90 days, and when you do, you can also get an updated free copy of your credit report from each of the three reporting agencies. Just set a reminder in your phone to renew the alert every 90 days and you’ll be good to go.
If you want the alert to last longer than 90 days, you can get an “extended” alert that lasts 7 years. If you do not have documentation of actual fraud, there will be a fee to have the extended alert placed on your record.
The benefit of a fraud alert is that it puts extra verification steps between new creditors and your credit report. In the alert you can even request to be called any time someone wants to pull your credit. This can be a big red flag for you if the credit pull is in Alaska and you live in Nebraska!
Besides, credit files that have active credit fraud alerts are way less attractive to identity thieves.
If the credit fraud alerts seem like too much work, or you want something stronger, you can put a freeze on your credit file. There is a fee for the freeze that varies by state. But it will literally freeze your credit. No new credit accounts can be added unless you choose to “unfreeze” your credit. It can be inconvenient since it slows the process down for credit you do want to apply for, but the security may be worth it.
No surprise, one of the credit reporting agencies even sells a software product that allows you to “lock” and “unlock” your credit file using your cell phone. (They will do anything they can to make more money off you…)
If you want extra security without the hassle of placing and removing credit freezes, you can opt to pay for professional credit monitoring. Of course, all three credit reporting companies offer monitoring services, but we recommend you look outside the credit reporting industry to find a provider. Ask at your bank, call your credit card companies, or use a 3rd party independent service like LifeLock.
But wait… isn’t Equifax offering a year of free credit monitoring?
Yes. But it is a VERY BAD IDEA to take them up on the offer.
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In the terms and conditions of the agreement for the free credit monitoring services, Equifax demands that you give up your right to sue them. Instead, you must agree to arbitration – a form of mediation where lawyers decide what will happen and there is no judge or jury of your peers involved.
Is $14.95 a month for 12 months really worth signing away your rights to due process?
We certainly don’t think so.
The same goes for their “free” credit freeze offer. Instead of paying a small fee (like $5 or $10) for the freeze, Equifax will give you one for free. You just have to agree to give up your constitutional rights.
DON’T DO IT!
It is our professionally informed opinion that it is far better to go with the free 90-day alerts for now. Get your free copies of your credit reports and make sure everything looks okay. Then, invest in the peace of mind a third-party credit monitoring company can provide.
If you do notice something is incorrect on your credit report, NCES can help. You can schedule a free initial consultation here.
After the public outcry about the arbitration clauses in their contracts, Equifax removed them from their contracts for free credit monitoring. Furthermore, they also removed the requirement for you to put in your credit card number to get the free year of service. It’s good that they are listening, but we still think asking them to monitor your credit for you is ill advised. Equifax is looking out for their best interest. You aren’t a person to them… you are a product. They make their money by selling your data to other companies.
Be vigilant and practice healthy credit habits. We are here if you have any questions.
If you have any questions, please give us a call at 770-952-5168 or contact us online.
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Other articles that may interest you:
How To Prevent Identity Theft During the Holidays
Child Identity Theft Hits 1 in 10 Families in the US
Social Media, Identity Theft, and Debt Collectors
This information is intended for informational and educational purposes only and not as legal advice. If you have concerns about your credit report, harassment, identity theft, illegal collections activity, garnishments, or property liens, you should consult an attorney who specializes in consumer rights and defense.