Are you among the estimated 143 million Americans whose identity information might have been compromised by the hack into the server of credit bureau Equifax? If so, freezing your credit is probably the best thing you can do to protect yourself, experts say.
This requires contacting all three major credit bureaus either by phone or on their website to request a freeze. This will involve a small fee depending on where you live, which you can check at the TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax websites.
Doing so will throw roadblocks in the way of identity thieves who might want to open a credit card or take out a loan in your name. The only downside aside from the nominal cost is that you will have to unfreeze your credit the next time you want to make a major financial transaction, which very well might cost you again—although again, not much. You will be given a PIN code for purposes of unfreezing, so keep this information in a safe place.
What else can you do? Signing up for free credit monitoring or obtaining a free credit report can alert you if your stolen identity is successfully used by anyone, although that’s of limited use because by then, it’s after-the-fact. Still, checking your credit among the three bureaus on a staggered basis is better than not checking at all, experts say.
The year of free credit monitoring that Equifax offered those caught up in the breach does not—contrary to initial reports—mean that you can’t decide to sue the company later.
If you actually become an identity fraud victim, it’s best to file a police report so you can provide that to companies’ fraud investigators and to the Internal Revenue Service if your identity is ever used to file false tax returns.
Another person you might want to think about contacting is your congressional representative. Given the increasingly mature criminal financial ecosystem, it might be that additional regulation is necessary to stop identity theft breaches going into the future.
To freeze your credit, contact:
- Experian online, by calling 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742) or by certified mail (return receipt requested) to: Experian P.O. Box 9554 Allen, TX 75013. To unfreeze, go online or call 1-888-397-3742.
- Equifax online or certified mail (return receipt requested) to: Equifax Security Freeze P.O. Box 105788 Atlanta, GA. 30348. To unfreeze, regular mail, online or call 1-800-685-1111 (1-800-349-9960 in New York).
- Transunion online, by phone (1-888-909-8872) or by certified mail (return receipt requested) to TransUnion LLC P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016. To unfreeze, go online or call 1-888-909-8872.