In light of the recent Equifax data breach, you may be wondering what steps you can take to protect your credit. With the mass influx of blog posts and multiple companies offering paid-for services to “lock” your credit, we understand it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Luckily, depending on where you live, it can be easy and inexpensive to begin adding layers of security surrounding your credit and identity.
A good place to start would be to place a fraud alert on your credit report, which can make it harder for identity thieves to open accounts in your name. A fraud alert stays on your report for at least 90 days and during this time you can still open new accounts; however businesses must verify your identity by way of contacting you before it issues any credit.
Issuing a fraud alert is free and easy to do, and unlike a credit freeze, you only need to contact one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian) for it to be applied across all of them. A fraud alert would be a sensible option for younger consumers who may want to open a new credit card or apply for a mortgage in the near future, as opposed to initiating a credit freeze.
For more security, a credit freeze can be placed on your credit account, which is a proactive way to protect your credit and personal information. Lenders will be blocked from accessing your credit while the freeze is in place. If you wanted to apply for a loan, for example, you would either need to lift the freeze (which removes it for a short amount of time) or remove it entirely. As of May 2018, it is now free to add, lift, and remove a credit freeze across all bureaus and states. See the table below to check your state’s rules:
|Time Span||7 years||Permanent||Permanent|
|Fees for Adding a Freeze||Free||Free||Free|
|Fees for Lifting a Freeze||Free||Free||Free|
|Fees for Removing a Freeze||Free||Free||Free|
Once you’ve decided to activate a credit freeze, you will need to contact each of the three credit bureaus. You can begin the credit freeze process either over the phone or online through each of the bureaus’ websites, which will take you step-by-step through the process (see below). At the end of the process you will be supplied with a PIN, that differs from agency to agency, so be sure to keep the number somewhere safe in the event you need to lift or remove the freeze later on.
- By phone: 1-888-909-8872
- By phone: 1-800-685-1111 (NY residents please call 1-800-349-9960)
- By phone: 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742). When calling, press 2 and then follow prompts for security freeze
You can also request a credit freeze by mail. If you would like us to provide you with the materials and instructions to do so, please contact your financial planner at 215-348-9393. If you are not a current client, please email Julie Picariello.
Credit Monitoring Services
If you don’t want to implement a fraud alert or credit freeze, and would rather opt for a constant credit monitoring service, there are a myriad of companies that offer such products.
Most basic services will include a credit report, alerts about changes in your credit, monitoring the web for misuse of your social security number or driver’s license number, and typically a $1 million identity theft insurance policy.
Additionally, there are more expensive and robust plans that will monitor banks and credit unions to detect new checking or savings accounts in your name and detect fraudulent cash withdrawals and balance transfers from any investment or retirement accounts.
Be sure to read the fine print before signing up for a credit monitoring service to understand what it includes and doesn’t include. Also, remember that there are many free steps you can take to add layers of protection surrounding your credit and if you are proactive and vigilant regarding your credit, a paid-for service may not be necessary.
Blyskal, Jeff. “Is Equifax’s Free ID Protection Service Good Enough?” Consumer Reports. N.p., 6 Oct. 2017. Web. 07 Nov. 2017.
Henson, Sarah. “What Is the Difference Between a Credit Freeze and Fraud Alert?” Experian. N.p., 15 Sept. 2017. Web. 16 Nov. 2017.
“How Do I Place a Security Freeze on My Equifax Credit File?” Experian. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2017.
“Locking Your Credit Report.” TransUnion. N.p., 18 Oct. 2017. Web. 16 Nov. 2017.