September 29, 2017
By Teresa Dixon Murray, The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio — In the week since Equifax disclosed its horrific data breach, much has been written about what to do. Now, it’s time to talk a bit about what NOT to do:
Don’t think that because you’ve never heard of Equifax before, or never agreed to give them your information, that Equifax doesn’t have it. They don’t need your permission to compile your information. Banks and other creditors furnish all of your info to the credit bureaus. What the banks don’t have is obtained by the bureaus from court records and other public records.
Don’t click on links you get by email or from your friends that say it’s a link to help you figure out whether your Social Security Number was compromised. There are links being circulated by data-theft rings or by people who just want to cause mischief. Don’t click on links from sources you don’t trust. Find the official link to Equifax.
Don’t feel safe if Equifax says your personal data wasn’t compromised. Some people type their information into Equifax’s online tool and are told their information wasn’t stolen. Then they try again the next day and are told their information was indeed stolen. Just assume your information has been compromised and take steps to protect yourself.
Don’t believe that a credit freeze, credit monitoring and a fraud alert all accomplish the same thing:
- A credit freeze locks your credit file to creditors and should keep bad guys from taking out new loans or opening credit cards or buying cellphones in your name.
- Credit monitoring doesn’t keep thieves from using your stolen information; it simply notifies you after something bad has happened.
- A fraud alert placed on a credit file cautions creditors that the person’s information may have been stolen. But many creditors don’t even check this; they’re not required to. It’s like, “pretty please”.
Don’t provide your credit card number to Equifax concerning any of its services. The credit freezes are free through Equifax through Nov. 21. Its other protection services are free for a year. For now, you’ll have to pay $5 in Ohio to freeze your credit files through TransUnion and Experian. The lesser-known fourth bureau, Innovis, doesn’t charge a fee. There’s regulatory pressure on Equifax to cover everything or reimburse people.
Don’t think if you freeze your credit file that it also covers your spouse or kids. Couples have different Social Security Numbers, as do each of the kids in a family. A freeze affects only one SSN, not an entire household.
Don’t click on ads you see online or links you see in news stories or anything like this—not even my links! Re-type the addresses in your browser. Only click on links when going directly to sites like Equifax, TransUnion, Experian or Innovis.
Don’t provide information to entities that send you emails, text messages or letters, or call you on the phone. They’re likely imposters. Fraudsters connected with this breach may try to lull you in because they’ll already know your SSN, your date of birth, your home address and a whole bunch more. Reputable companies don’t contact you out of the blue and ask for personal information. Call companies using a number you find independently (back of credit or debit card, bank statement, company website, etc.)
Don’t worry about changing the numbers on your deposit accounts, like checking and savings. These numbers are not in your credit files. But you still need to monitor deposit and investment accounts more closely in case thieves use your stolen information to impersonate you and steal your money.
Don’t be scared into not freezing your credit. For example, TransUnion is working hard to discourage credit freezes. If you contact them online or by phone, TransUnion will try to convince you to “lock” your credit, instead of freezing it. They gush that it’s free and easy, while cautioning that freezes can be a hassle and cost money.
I think all of the bureaus may start pushing a “lock” instead of a freeze because freezes are regulated by law, locks aren’t. Plus, if your file is frozen, the bureaus may not be able to sell your information to creditors and other companies for those pre-screened credit offers and other marketing purposes.
If you want to freeze your credit, then do it. Don’t be talked out of it by a pushy credit bureau.
Don’t believe that if you freeze your credit that you can just kick back and relax. About 88% of fraud involves existing accounts, not new ones. You still need to regularly monitor your credit card, debit card and bank accounts in case someone has your stolen information to gain access. Sign up through your bank and credit cards for email or text alerts so you’re notified about activity. Also, monitor your accounts at least once a week online.
Don’t use data that was in your credit files as part of any online username or password for your email, financial accounts, Facebook, etc. Not your date of birth, not a past phone number or street address, nothing.
Don’t think that if you froze your credit files years ago that you’re safe from this breach. The theft involved Equifax’s internal files, not just the ones available to creditors. The information stolen could be used in all sorts of nefarious ways, including to answer security questions for bank, credit, insurance and investment accounts.
Don’t give up. If you’ve tried to freeze your credit files and haven’t been able to get through, wait a week or so. The bureaus have been inundated with volumes that their websites and customer service call centers were never designed to handle. Go on to other protection tactics like signing up for alerts through your bank and credit card, making sure your online passwords are secure, etc.
Don’t go to any other source for a free copy of your credit report except by calling 1-877-322-8228. You will NOT be asked for a credit card or debit card number. Or you can fill out a paper request and mail it certified to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5281. Other websites may say they’re free, but there likely is a free trial period before you have to pay for credit monitoring, or the site may just be a total scam.
Don’t freeze only your Equifax credit file. Even though Equifax is the one that suffered the breach, the information stolen from Equifax could be used to open accounts with companies that only check your files through TransUnion or Experian. Truthfully, most creditors don’t check all three of your files unless you’re getting a mortgage because most of your information is the same on all of them.
FREEZING YOUR CREDIT FILES
Equifax by mail:
Write a short note that you’re requesting a free credit freeze and include your name, address, Social Security Number and date of birth. Mail your request through certified mail to Equifax Security Freeze, PO 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348.
Here are the phone numbers to call
Innovis: 1-800-540-2505 (a lesser-known bureau used more for business accounts)