It’s been more than a month since the massive Equifax hack, where some 143 million Americans potentially had their credit scores, social security numbers and other confidential information swiped by cyber crooks.
It was an unprecedented event, and by now you should have gone to the Equifax website to learn whether or not you’re among the likely victims of the attack. If you went through the prompt and weren’t deemed to have been affected, consider yourself lucky – there was about a 50/50 chance one way or another, so you’re on the good side of things. But if your information was jeopardized in the hack, then we’d strongly suggest taking the proper measures to keep your information safe to better minimize the chances of identity theft. One way to accomplish this is by freezing your credit.
Credit freezing sounds pretty much like what it actually is – it’s a means of locking your information so that nobody else can attempt to open a line of credit without your knowledge. While Equifax was the credit bureau that was the source of the attacks, if you decide to conduct a credit freeze, we’d recommend doing it with all three major bureaus, so put Experian and TransUnion on your list too.
Though it’s a distant fourth, you may even want to contact Innovis for such purposes as well. Here’s a look at how to conduct a credit freeze – it’s rather simple to do:
1. Call the credit bureau. While you can administer a credit freeze online, it’s best to just pick up the phone and give them a call. Inform the bureau that you’d like to freeze your credit.
2. Answer the questions. After you ask for a freeze, you’ll be asked several “security” questions that help the bureau verify that you are who you say you are. After you successfully answer the questions, your credit will be effectively frozen.
3. You may be asked by the credit bureau if you’d like to perform a credit lock rather than a credit freeze. It’s best to just stick with a credit freeze, as the bureaus may interpret a credit lock differently and you may not receive the same protection with a lock that you would with a freeze.
Credit Freezing: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The good thing about a credit freeze is that it ensures nobody can access your credit information without your official OK. So if any cyber thief attempted to open a credit card with your identity, they’d be swiftly denied because your credit has been frozen. When it’s frozen, it’s not available for anyone to view. That’s the good news.
The bad and the ugly when it comes to a credit freeze is when it’s you who wants to apply for a loan or open a new line of credit. When you’re in a situation like this, you can’t just proceed as normal. No, you have to contact all of the credit bureaus that your credit is frozen with and go through the process of lifting the freeze so that you can get your loan. It’s not as much bad or ugly as it is inconvenient and time consuming.
Because lifting the freeze is the only way to make your information visible to lenders again, it’s the process that you need to take. After you’ve gone through the application process and have been approved of the loan or new credit card, then you’ll have to go through the above steps once again to re-freeze your credit.
Another thing to know about a credit freeze is that the bureaus don’t make money when it occurs, so it can be standard practice for representatives working at the bureaus to try to talk you out of it. If you think a credit freeze is still the best course of action for you, stay adamant if someone tries to tell you otherwise.
When it comes to your personal, confidential information, you can never be too careful. And if there’s one thing that the recent Equifax hack showed us all, it’s just that. We’re more than a month out from the major security breach, so if you’ve yet to take stock of where you stand, now’s the time to act. Know that even if you’ve been hacked, you have options to stay safe.