Best Steps to Protect Your Credit
Between May and July, hackers accessed private financial data housed on Equifax’s servers on 143 million people. It appears as though the data was housed in dispute complaints that consumers had filed over the years. The stolen data includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and 200,000 credit card numbers.
Equifax is one of the big 3 credit agencies that houses and sells consumer credit and financial data at a huge profit. When credit card companies get an application from a consumer, this is one of the sources they go to determine creditworthiness. They know everything about you.
So what am I doing to fix it? Equifax’s own tool has been documented by CNET and others as unreliable, so just assume your data is out there and act to protect yourself. “Ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure” and all that.
Step 1: Survey the existing landscape
Sign up with Credit Karma and see what your report looks like now because the bad guys have had data since May. www.CreditKarma.com. This is free and trusted by experts. If there are accounts listed there, contact that company’s fraud department immediately.
Step 2: You can set a fraud alert that will warn you if an account is opened. This must be renewed every 90 days.
Step 3: This is pretty extreme and you will have to unfreeze it to apply for accounts, but it is the gold standard: You can freeze your credit by calling one of these numbers. This will prevent any new accounts from being opened up.
Also, don’t forget that Georgia has a credit freeze law passed back on August 1, 2008. In order to protect yourself, you send a letter by certified mail to each of the three credit reporting agencies.
The letter must contain:
- Your $3 payment by money order or check
- Your Name
- Your Address
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number
- A copy of a government-issued identification card, such as a driver’s license.
- A copy of a utility bill, bank or insurance statement. Credit card statements, voided checks, lease agreements, magazine subscriptions will not cut the mustard.
Send your request by certified mail to all three credit reporting agencies:
- Equifax: Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348; 1-800-685-1111, www.equifax.com.
- Experian: Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013; 1-888-397-3742, www.experian.com (look for “security freeze” link).
- TransUnion: TransUnion Security Freeze, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834; 1-888-909-8872, www.transunion.com (look for “security freeze” link under “identity theft” section).
How do I unfreeze it when I want to open a new account at Target to get that whopping 10% off? This is the cool part: you get a PIN number and can unlock it in 15 minutes either online or over the phone. Keep your credit under lock and key!
For more information, surf on over to Georgia Watch, a consumer watchdog for our state.