You likely have heard the news about the Equifax security breach, but in case you haven’t, hackers gained access to the personal credit information one half to possibly 2/3 of the American adult population. The stolen information is sufficient to steal your identity and open credit in your name.
With a breach this big, you should assume you were affected and act accordingly to protect yourself. The best way to do that is to freeze your credit, so that no one, including you, can open a new account using your information. Freezing does not affect your ability to use credit you already have, rather it stops anything new from being established.
Freezing your credit isn’t without its drawbacks however. First, it may cost you money depending on your state. In Pennsylvania, it’s $10 per credit bureau per person to freeze and to temporarily lift, or thaw. New Jersey and New York are free to place the freeze, but $5 to thaw. You will need a thaw to apply for a car loan or other credit, or even to have a potential landlord check your credit. You also will not be able to create an online account with Social Security with a credit freeze because they use your credit report to verify your identity, so if you have not yet created your account, do that prior to requesting your freeze.
To freeze (and later thaw) your credit, you must contact each of the three major credit bureaus. I’ll list the contact info below. It may not be a quick and easy process- I just did ours and ran into a few snags. Equifax was no problem. Experian however said they could not verify my identity and I have to send them documents by mail or electronic upload before they can place the freeze. Transunion made me create a login and then it was difficult to find my way back to the place to do the freeze. So be forewarned you need some patience to get through the process with all three.
Equifax 800-349-9960 or https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
Experian 888-397-3742 or https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
Transunion 888-909-8872 or https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp
Create your Social Security online account if you need to (www.ssa.gov) and also apply for any credit you have planned
Check your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com
Consider signing up for free (and legit) credit services at www.creditkarma.com or www.credit.com
Freeze your credit with each bureau
Check your bank and credit accounts diligently for fraudulent charges
Equifax has created a site to see if you were one of those affected. To check though, you are required to enter your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. Regardless of whether or not you were affected, Equifax is offering a free year of credit monitoring through TrustedID.