Extension provides advice on Equifax breach

Free monitoring, credit freeze among options

Freezing credit and signing up for free credit monitoring are among strategies a University of Wisconsin-Extension specialist suggests in response to the massive hack of the consumer credit reporting agency Equifax.

The response of Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus in the U.S., to the data breach this summer continues to evolve. Computer hackers accessed personal data — Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and potentially more information — of 143 million U.S. consumers.

Equifax advises all consumers to determine if their personal information may have been affected by going to its website www.equifax.com. There have been reports of imposter websites popping up, so double-check the spelling when going online.

Once online, consumers can read about the extent of the data breach and request to enroll in one-year free credit monitoring, whether or not personal information has been stolen.

Be sure to use a secure internet connection and not a free public wireless connection because individuals will be asked to provide the last six digits of their Social Security number.

If consumers find that the website is not working or offline, another option is to call Equifax toll-free at 866-447-7559 between 8 a.m. and midnight seven days a week, but due to high call volumes, expect busy signals or try to call later in the evening. To protect yourself from scams, know that Equifax will never call consumers unless they have left a message on the hotline. Equifax has also not sent out emails or mailed letters regarding the breach at this time, so beware of imposters who may try contacting you for personal information.

If you choose to enroll in free credit monitoring, individuals will be provided with an enrollment date and the website to the free credit monitoring service from Trusted ID Premier.

Participants are advised to write down both the date and website since individuals will not receive any email reminders from Equifax; it is up to the consumer to complete the credit monitoring enrollment request. After completing the credit monitoring enrollment process, individuals will then receive an email with a link to activate the free credit monitoring. The free enrollment offer time line has been extended and now expires Jan. 31.

“Equifax will soon be offering free credit freezes for life for all consumers whether or not you choose to participate in the free credit monitoring service,” said Peggy Olive, financial capability specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension and UW-Madison. “Stolen information puts you at risk for years to come, long after the one-year free monitoring service expires. Placing a credit freeze on your Equifax credit file is a step that may or may not be right for each individual.”

The University of Wisconsin-Extension “Check Your Free Credit Report” website (fyi.uwex.edu/creditreport) provides information on the differences between security freezes and fraud alerts, as well as links to reporting and dealing with identity theft.

Security freeze

A security freeze prevents others from accessing your credit report for the purpose of opening new accounts, unless you lift the freeze. A freeze has no effect on your existing accounts or on your credit score. Note that a freeze will not prevent credit fraud unless the creditor actually checks an individual’s credit report.

You must lift the security freeze each time you want to apply for new credit, which will delay your ability to open new credit, shop for insurance quotes or apply for a car loan, for example. A security freeze may be a good option for individuals who do not plan to apply for credit in the near future.

Fraud alerts

Fraud alerts are a free alternative to a security freeze. Fraud alerts flag your credit report so that lenders must take additional steps to verify your identity when somebody applies for credit in your name. Similar to a security freeze, fraud alerts only prevent identity theft that requires your credit report. To create a fraud alert, an individual needs to contact one of the three credit bureaus, and then that bureau will contact the other two bureaus.

There are three types of free fraud alerts:

• Initial fraud alert. This alert lasts for 90 days. An individual will need to renew the fraud alert every 90 days to keep this flag on their credit report.

• Extended fraud victim alert. This alert is only available to individuals who prove they are victims of identity theft by filing a police report. The alert lasts seven years and entitles the victim to additional free credit reports, in addition to their annual free report from AnnualCreditReport.com.

• Active duty alert. This alert is available to members of the military. The alerts lasts one year and can be rolled over while the individual continues to be on active duty.
Continue to monitor

The University of Wisconsin provides email reminders to individuals to check their free credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion throughout the year. Visit the “Check Your Free Credit Report” website (fyi.uwex.edu/creditreport) to sign up for an email reminder on Feb. 2, June 6 and Oct. 10.

Individuals can also request their reports directly from AnnualCreditReport.com. In addition to the official website, individuals can also order a free credit report through the mail or by phone toll free at 877- 322-8228.

“Reviewing your free credit report every four months is especially important given the number of data breaches occurring these past few years,” Olive said. “Checking your free credit reports or using security freezes or fraud alerts help you monitor and control use of your credit history. However, credit reports don’t include data on checking accounts, for example, so keep an eye on the monthly statements from your financial institution.”

For information on credit reports and personal financial management, contact Nancy Schultz, family living educator, at the Shawano County UW-Extension Office.