In September, 2017, the credit-reporting agency Equifax disclosed one of the most significant data breaches in recent history, saying information including the Social Security numbers of 143 million consumers was potentially compromised. The breach includes “names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers.” Additionally, the company stated that credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers were accessed, along with some dispute documents that contain personal identifying information for about 182,000 U.S. consumers.
What does this mean for employers and property managers?
Many consumers have opted to protect their credit and identity with credit freezes or fraud alerts on their accounts. Employers and property managers using background screening providers to run credit reports on applicants could experience delays obtaining applicants’ credit information if the applicants have chosen to protect their identity by freezing their credit reports. Please click How to UnFreeze Credit Report to share with your applicants before running your background check reports with credit report inquiries.
What does this mean for consumers?
The recent announcement of this massive data breach is important to everyone. Personal information was stolen by presently unknown hackers. The sheer magnitude of the breach is astounding, and affects almost 44 percent of the entire population of the United States. The victims of this data breach are in serious danger of identity theft, which can be devastating to consumers’ financial well-being. Experts are urging consumers to regularly check their credit reports, monitor every bank statement, put fraud alerts on credit cards, place credit freezes (also known as security freezes) at credit bureaus, and file tax returns as early as possible to try to prevent fraudulent filings.
What can consumers do?
1) Check the Equifax Site to see if your data is potentially exposed. You will be required to enter part of your Social Security number to see if your information was part of the hack.
2) Sign up for Equifax’s free credit monitoring service. Some consumers may be alerted that their data is at risk when they provide the last six digits of their Social Security number and will be given the option to enroll in Equifax’s “TrustedID Premier” service. Follow the instructions on the website to enroll if you so choose.
3) Check your credit reports. In addition to Equifax, also check the other major credit bureaus Experian, and TransUnion for free by visiting annualcreditreport.com. The FTC states that “accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.” You can also check Innovis for your credit report directly.
4) Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name, but you have to go to the three credit bureaus to do it. Credit freezes will not prevent thieves from making charges to existing accounts, only from creating new accounts. Monitor existing credit card and bank accounts closely for unfamiliar charges.
5) Consider placing fraud alerts on your accounts. You can also sign up for fraud alerts through your credit card companies and credit bureaus.
What is the difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert?
A credit freeze locks down your credit. A fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report as long as they take steps to verify your identity. For example, if you provide a telephone number, the business must call you to verify whether you are the person making the credit request. Fraud alerts may be effective at stopping someone from opening new credit accounts in your name, but they may not prevent the misuse of your existing accounts. You still need to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.
This tool allows you to restrict access to your credit report. Most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t see your file, they may not extend the credit. Security freezes are designed to prevent a credit reporting company from releasing your credit report without your consent. However, you should be aware that using a security freeze to take control over who is allowed access to the personal and financial information in your file may delay, interfere with or prohibit the timely approval of any subsequent request or application you make regarding a new loan, credit, mortgage, insurance, government services or payments, rental housing, employment, investment, license, cellular telephone, utilities, digital signature, Internet credit card transaction or other services, including an extension of credit at point of sale.
How do I place a freeze on my credit reports?
Contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies:
Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
Experian — 1‑888‑397‑3742
TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
Innovis — 1-800-540-2505
You’ll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. Fees vary based on where you live, but commonly range from $5 to $10. Statewide specific information can be found at the National Conference of State Legislatures site.
After receiving your freeze request, each credit reporting company will send you a confirmation letter containing a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you choose to lift the freeze.
How do I lift a freeze?
In a few states, security freezes expire after seven years. In the vast majority of states, a freeze remains in place until you ask the credit reporting company to temporarily lift it or remove it altogether. A credit reporting company must lift a freeze no later than three business days after getting your request. The cost to lift a freeze varies by state.
If you opt for a temporary lift because you are applying for credit or a job, and you can find out which credit reporting company the business will contact for your file, you can save some money by lifting the freeze only at that particular company.
Things to consider when freezing your credit:
When applying for a job or mortgage/rental, if your credit report is going to be accessed by the background screening company, you will need to “un-freeze” your credit.
- It takes 3 days after requested is received to ‘thaw’
- Make sure to ask which bureau entity uses so you don’t have to un-freeze all three bureaus
- There is a charge per bureau to un-freeze your report
Three types of fraud alerts are available:
Initial Fraud Alert. If you’re concerned about identity theft, but haven’t yet become a victim, this fraud alert will protect your credit from unverified access for at least 90 days. You may want to place a fraud alert on your file if your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial or account information are lost or stolen.
Extended Fraud Alert. For victims of identity theft, an extended fraud alert will protect your credit for seven years.
Active Duty Military Alert. For those in the military who want to protect their credit while deployed, this fraud alert lasts for one year.
To place a fraud alert on your credit reports, contact one of the nationwide credit reporting companies. A fraud alert is free. The company you call must tell the other credit reporting companies; they, in turn, will place an alert on their versions of your report.
Monitor your Credit Reports
Consumers have the right to a free credit report from all 3 credit bureaus every year. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com for your free report. Reviewing the reports is the best way to see if there’s unusual activity like a new account or new or different personal information or inquiries from lenders you don’t recognize.
Lock your TransUnion Credit File
You have the ability to lock your credit information by enrolling in TrueIdentity. You can lock access to your credit file and receive ongoing credit monitoring with this completely free service. No credit card required and it is instant access. TransUnion is the only bureau offering this free service.