Credit protection: Freeze, lock or fraud alerts

via Credit protection: Freeze, lock or fraud alerts, clarionledger.com

PDF: Freeze lock or fraud alert

When Equifax announced a massive data breach last summer, many Americans were rightly concerned about their credit. Thieves had broken into the credit-reporting giant’s database and had access to at least 143 million records for several weeks over the summer, making off with vital information that could potentially be sold on the black market and used to commit identity theft. Initial reports indicated about 1.29 million Mississippians may be potential victims.

The breach was a disaster of unparalleled scale for Equifax and the credit-reporting industry. It eventually cost Equifax its CEO, and the company even now is having to explain itself to Congress and the nation. The inevitable flurry of lawsuits has followed, including a rare 50-state, class action lawsuit.

In the wake of the disaster, most financial experts advised us to be aggressive in how we protect ourselves and our information. The most common advice was to place a “credit freeze” on your account at all three major credit bureaus, to prevent thieves from opening new credit accounts. Other options included credit locks, or fraud alerts. But many people remain confused about the differences among the options, so I’ve found some sources of information to help explain the differences.

Credit freezes and credit locks are similar in many ways. Both keep your credit file off-limits to creditors trying to open new accounts. Both can be easily removed, although there are differences in how that occurs. The key differences, according to most sources I checked, are that unfreezing (“thawing”) your credit file may take a bit longer, locks may cost more, and you may be giving up some of your rights to join class action lawsuits if you put a lock in place.

A freeze is generally considered to be a stronger measure, to be taken in cases where you know your credit has been compromised. A lock might be used if you’re just concerned about the possibility of identity theft in general. A third option, a fraud alert, lets you know when new credit accounts are opened, so you can act immediately.

Both freezes and locks may cost you. Although there has been tremendous pressure from regulatory agencies and lawmakers to force credit bureaus to freeze your credit for free, only Equifax has so far done so (and only through Jan. 31). The financial website Nerdwallet’s Amrita Jayakumar notes that, at TransUnion and Experian, you will still be expected to pay about $10. For a lock, Equifax currently charges a $4.95 monthly fee to maintain the lock, but a free “lifetime” lock is expected in January. TransUnion provides locks for free, while Experian charges a $4.99 for the first month, and $24.99 monthly thereafter.

 When it comes to removing the protection, the advantage may go to credit locks. Both locks and freezes may be removed fairly easily, but removing a freeze can take 24 to 48 hours to take effect. By contrast, a lock (with TransUnion or Experian, not Equifax) can be removed instantly by simply swiping an app on your smartphone. This is important, for example, for people who want to apply for credit at the store cash register to take advantage of discounts.

Consumer Reports, in a September comparison between locks and freezes, said freezes were in general a better option than locks because freezes are guaranteed by law, as locks are an agreement between you and the credit bureau. In addition, the report noted, freezes are in general cheaper (perhaps free).

Regardless of which you choose, a fraud alert is a good thing to add on. It is free, lasts 90 days (you’ll need to extend it), and requires creditors to verify your identity. You only have to call one of the three credit bureaus, and they’re required to notify the other two.

For more helpful information about the three options, including a comparison chart, visit http://bit.ly/2ATZ6MQ.

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Credit freeze over data breach should be free, AG Hood says

Source: Credit freeze over data breach should be free, AG Hood says, clarionledger.com

Mississippi’s attorney general is calling on two of the nation’s “Big 3” credit reporting agencies to immediately end the practice of charging fees for consumers to freeze their credit accounts in the wake of the massive data breach that affected their counterpart Equifax.

Following the news that more than 145 million Americans (including about 1.3 million Mississippians) were at risk after hackers broke into Equifax’s database over several weeks this summer, consumer advocates urged consumers to “freeze” their credit reports. A credit freeze effectively keeps anyone from using credit bureau files to open new accounts, and stays in place until removed by the consumer.

But when people tried to freeze their credit files with Equifax, they were told they’d have to pay a fee. The resulting outrage made Equifax reconsider its decision, and it agreed to waive its fees to freeze accounts. The company’s response to the crisis cost CEO Richard Smith his job and cast doubt on the company’s future.

But despite pressure, TransUnion and Experian didn’t waive their own fees to freeze consumers’ accounts. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and 35 of his counterparts want to change that. Hood sent out a news release last week, saying the group had sent letters to TransUnion and Experian urging them to waive their fees immediately or they’d send the bill for all the agencies’ fees to Equifax.
“If these agencies do not waive their fees, I intend to make Equifax pay for the fees that victims have incurred due to their hack,” Hood said in the release. “For customers who have already paid fees to place a freeze on their account, Equifax must reimburse them.”
Immediately after that breach, Hood and his counterparts forced Equifax to extend their free credit monitoring through the end of January. Still, he argues, it’s not enough. “Although Equifax also agreed to waive fees for its security freezes, people are still having to pay fees at other agencies,” Hood’s release noted.
“While it is legal in Mississippi to charge up to $10 to place a freeze on credit reports, General Hood believes a measure to waive that fee in extreme situations such as this breach should be seriously considered.” He noted that credit reporting agencies profit by selling consumers’ information, “and they have a responsibility to protect that same information.”
A credit freeze protects consumers by prohibiting third-party access to a consumer’s credit file; it’s considered one of the most effective ways to protect yourself should someone try to open credit accounts in your name. A freeze stays in place until the consumer removes it by using a unique passcode provided by the agency. Since it will also keep you from getting new credit — such as a mortgage or auto loan — while it’s in place, you’ll need to lift it if you are applying for credit.
Unless and until the fees are waived at TransUnion and Experian, a credit freeze will cost Mississippians $10 at Experian and TransUnion, but you won’t have to pay a fee at either if you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
Hood also reiterated his advice for protecting yourself against identity theft:
  • Regularly request your free credit reports, inspect them closely, and promptly dispute any unauthorized accounts.
  • Inspect all financial account statements closely and promptly dispute any unauthorized charges.
  • Consider placing alerts on your financial accounts so your financial institution alerts you when money above a pre-designated amount is withdrawn.
  • Beware of potential phishing emails; don’t open any email messages or attachments from unknown senders, and do not click on any unknown links.
  • Watch out for “spoofed” email addresses. Spoofed email addresses are those that make minor changes in the domain name, frequently changing the letter “O” to the number zero, or the lowercase letter “l” to the number one. Scrutinize all incoming email addresses to ensure that the sender is legitimate.

For info on how to freeze your credit at all three bureaus, visit http://clark.com/personal-finance-credit/credit-freeze-and-thaw-guide/.

Brace yourself for Equifax scams

phishingSource: Equifax scams next consumer headache, clarionledger.com

It was perhaps only a matter of time before crooks jumped on the opportunity to cash in on the confusion following the massive Equifax data breach.

In case you have been in a cave the past couple of weeks, here’s a recap of what’s happened: Equifax, one of the “Big 3” credit bureaus that compile and sell credit data on hundreds of millions of consumers, announced recently that hackers had been playing around in its database for several weeks this summer.

The result: sensitive data on an estimated 143 million consumers from multiple countries had been compromised. Equifax is getting hammered by regulators and the public not only for having inadequate security in the first place, but also because they waited several weeks to report the breach; encouraged customers to sign up for free “credit monitoring” services that initially contained language that would potentially take away their legal rights, and then charged for “freezing” consumers’ credit accounts. After tremendous pressure, Equifax backpedaled on the last two items, but the damage to the company is likely to be long-lasting.

 Although it wasn’t the biggest breach in history by the numbers (that distinction belongs to Yahoo), it was particularly dangerous because thieves got away with information that connected Social Security numbers, names, addresses and other key pieces of information. These pieces of data are likely being sold on the black market, to be used by other thieves to steal your identity.

Last week, Attorney General Jim Hood joined with his counterparts across the nation to announce they were suing Equifax for failing to protect consumers’ information. Members of Congress are demanding investigations, and class-action lawsuits are certainly on the way.

The whole thing has left a whole lot of Americans trying to figure out what to do to protect themselves from the risk of identity theft. While freezing your account at Equifax and its counterparts TransUnion and Experian is the route most experts advise (as of this writing, the other two companies are charging for this service), scammers are already trying to convince people to give up personal information or even pay for additional scam services. A rising chorus of regulatory agencies is warning consumers not to take the bait.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers are calling consumers claiming they’re with Equifax and are calling to “verify your account information.” But Equifax has stated they’ll only be sending notices through the mail to anyone who was exposed. “Stop. Don’t tell them anything,” warned the FTC in a blog post. “They’re not from Equifax. It’s a scam. Equifax will not call you out of the blue.”

The FTC advises that, if you get such a call, your best bet is to hang up. Do not press “1” or any other key or respond in any way. In any case, don’t give any personal information to the caller. Caller ID can’t be trusted, even if it looks like the call comes from your home area code and local exchange. It’s not; scammers have long ago figured out how to “spoof” the Caller ID information to fool you into thinking it’s a local call.

 It’s also likely that there’ll be email scams or even “snail mail” claiming to be able to help you deal with the Equifax breach. These communications might even look like they come from Equifax or some other known company, but in reality are “phishing” scams designed to fool you into clicking on links or call to get services. Again, don’t take the bait.

This week, Hood warned of scam websites that have popped up. He said some fake websites that attorneys general have gotten taken down included “equifaxsecurity2018” and another that had Equifax incorrectly spelled “Equifox.”

Equifax and the credit-reporting industry are in for what promises to be an extensive period of lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and media thrashing. Consumer advocates and regulators have complained for decades that the industry is in need of serious oversight because of recurring patterns of shoddy record-keeping, failing to safeguard our data and wielding tremendous power over the financial lives of nearly every American without adequate oversight. Perhaps it’s time for a serious look at this industry and a national discussion about its place in the American economic landscape.

Freezing your credit after the Equifax breach

 

freeze credit

NASA Federal Credit Union

 

Source: Freezing your credit after the Equifax breach, clarionledger.com

A recent data breach from one of the nation’s largest credit bureaus has sent shockwaves throughout an industry that holds information affecting the financial futures of millions of Americans.

Hackers reportedly broke into the files of Equifax for a six-week period from May through July, making off with personal information for about 143 million consumers. This brazen heist is one of the largest to date, potentially exposing nearly half of Americans to the risk of identity theft (along with considerable numbers of Canadians and British citizens).

“This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do,” an apologetic Equifax Chairman and CEO Richard F. Smith said in a video statement. “I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes.”

 You may recall that Equifax and the other “Big 3” credit bureaus were sued in recent years by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and his counterparts around the nation after allegations of shoddy record-keeping and reporting practices led to errors and damage for some consumers. The suit resulted in a 2016 settlement of more than $7 million.

Of course, data breaches are nothing new, and happen constantly as hackers probe the security of databases around the world. The threshold for making the national news has gotten higher, so if a breach makes big news, it’s usually one that has set a record.

“The types of data potentially exposed in this breach could ruin lives, businesses, and might I say, credit scores,” Hank Thomas, chief operating officer at Strategic Cyber Ventures, a Washington incubator of cybersecurity companies, told McClatchy News Services. The trove of data (with a potential value of hundreds of millions of dollars on the black market) included names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, driver’s license numbers and credit card information.

As you read this news, you might be asking yourself, “should I be worried?” Most every source I’ve consulted says the answer is a resounding “yes.” The amount and type of data that has been compromised can expose you to the risk of identity theft for years to come. Using this data, fraudsters could open new credit accounts or lines of credit in your name, apply for driver’s licenses, even get speeding tickets on your record (for which you can be arrested) and steal government payments such as Social Security checks and tax refunds.

The danger is here, and it’s real. So, what next? In the wake of the announcement (which Equifax waited several weeks to do), the company announced it would be offering a year of free credit monitoring through its TrustedID Premier service. But many advocates pointed out that signing up for the service includes language that some said could be construed as signing away the consumer’s right to sue over the breach. After significant pushback, the language was changed. Still, some financial experts advise consumers not to sign up for the one-year monitoring, since the effects of the breach could last years.

Many experts advise that consumers who may be affected by the breach place a “credit freeze” on their reports at all three major reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Placing a freeze on your account takes a little effort and can be inconvenient. But if you are applying for credit, you can temporarily lift the freeze yourself, and re-enable it later. A credit freeze blocks your credit reports from being shared with potential new creditors. Without a credit report, most lenders won’t open a new line of credit. (It won’t stop them from changing information on existing accounts, however.) Freezing your accounts will not affect your credit or score.

Note: Bowing to public outcry after the breach, Equifax announced Sept. 11 that it would waive all fees for the next 30 days for consumers who request a credit freeze. To freeze your file on Equifax, click on: https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp. (It wasn’t known at the time of this writing whether TransUnion and Experian would also be waiving fees on credit-freeze requests.)

For more on credit freezes, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do.