The recent data breach in the news comes from Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus in the U.S. This breach involves computer hackers accessing personal data – social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and potentially more information – of 143 million U.S. consumers. Fond du Lac County UW Extension Family Living Educator Shelley Tidemann provided credit report education materials via social media for Fond du Lac County residents to access as they decided how to address this data/security breach. One area of education was on the difference between a fraud alert and a credit freeze.
Equifax advises all consumers to determine if their personal information may have been affected by going to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. 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 6 digits of their social security number.
All three of the major credit agencies – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – allow individuals to freeze access to their credit reports. Security freezes prevent companies other than ones you already do business with from viewing your credit report.
The University of Wisconsin-Extension “Check Your Free Credit Report” website 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.
In Wisconsin, a security freeze costs $10 to place or lift at two of the main credit bureaus, Experian and TransUnion, since Equifax will now be free. The $10 fee is also waived if you have been a victim of identity theft and have filed a police 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.
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 to sign up for an email reminder on 2/2, 6/6, and 10/10. 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 1-877-322-8228.
“Reviewing your free credit report every four months is especially important given the number of data breaches occurring these past few years,” notes Tidemann. “Checking your free credit reports or using security freezes or fraud alerts helps you monitor and control use of your credit history. However, credit reports don’t include data on checking accounts or social security number usage, for example, so keep an eye on the monthly statements from your financial institution.”
Article By: Michelle Tidemann