Along with over a million other Americans, my personal data was compromised by the Equifax Hack. I found out I was part of the data breach by entering my last name and the last 6 digits of my Social Security number on the Equifax site, I got their “Thank You – Your information may have been impacted.” message. That brief notification left me with so many questions and concerns.
The rest of Equifax’s website is irritatingly low on information about what exactly might have been leaked. The company has access to all of my private information, including my Social Security number, date of birth, credit card/loan information, and all of my previous addresses. These details are an identity thief’s dream come true, so for the rest of my life I will need to be cautious of my identity being stolen.
Equifax’s offered solution is to prompt enrollment in their credit monitoring service “TrustedID Premier” but the truth is that credit monitoring/protection does not actually stop the identity theft from occurring. Such programs only notify you if there is any activity on your credit, and then help you fix the problem after the fact.
Ultimately, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I chose to freeze my credit. A credit freeze allows me to seal my credit reports and use a personal identification number (PIN) to temporarily “thaw” my credit when legitimate applications for credit need to be processed. The added layer of security means that thieves cannot establish new credit in my name even if they have my personal information. In most states the credit freeze permanently remains in your files until you lift it.
Freezing my credit was surprisingly simple – I called all three of the major credit reporting agencies via their automated phone “credit freeze” phone lines:
- Equifax: 1-800-349-9960
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- Trans Union: 1-888-909-8872
I provided their automated system with my Social Security number and some other personal information and was able to complete the process in a few minutes. Two of the agencies made me pay $10 (Equifax graciously allowed me to freeze for free). All three agencies gave me a pin number which they also mailed to my house. In order to “thaw” my credit in the future, I will be required to call the reporting agencies and use my PIN to lift the freeze. It’s important to retain the PIN numbers safely – I have the pin numbers saved in a safe place, as well as backup copies in my safe deposit box at the bank.
The option I chose might not have been suitable had I been in the process of buying a house or car, but since I currently have all the credit I need, it was a perfect decision for me. I strongly encourage everyone to reflect on their current borrowing situations and if (similar to me) you’re all set with your current credit, then I highly recommend the credit freezing method. With future threats unpredictable, you can never go wrong with a proactive approach against identity theft.