Coping With the Aftermath of the Equifax Hack
I usually try to avoid long lines and peak crowds as a way to reduce wasted time and mental stress. It didn’t quite work out that way this week. As everyone knows by now, about 143 million Americans had key pieces of their personal identification information (PII) stolen in the Equifax hack. We’re talking about the “holy grail” of PII for identity thieves: Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, credit card numbers, and other key data.
As if that wasn’t enough, consumers were basically told to “deal with it” ourselves: check our credit reports, sign up for free (for now) credit monitoring, request a fraud alert, and freeze our credit. All at our own expense (both time and money), of course. If the traffic on I-95 in Florida fleeing Hurricane Irma looked bad, imagine millions of Americans simultaneously trying to take the four recommended actions noted above. Yes….total gridlock.
While I’ve toyed with the idea for years, the Equifax hack immediately convinced me to freeze my credit. By taking this step, you prevent potential creditors from accessing your credit file, thereby preventing identity thieves from opening accounts in your name. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. I’ve been at it for four days now and encountered two “temporarily unavailable” web sites and phone calls that drop with busy signals.
We’re told to “keep trying” and I will, until I am credit frozen by the “Big 3”credit reporting agencies or CRAs (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Some credit experts are also recommending freezes with another agency called Innovis. Too much is at stake not to. Unfortunately, each CRA must be contacted separately. That’s 4 contacts per person. It would be so much easier if we could contact one central site like www.annualcreditreport.comfor credit reports.
To avoid online and phone gridlock, you can also request credit freezes by certified U.S. mail. I found an Indiana government web sitewith helpful template request letters but double-check the addresses for security freezes on each CRA’s web site. Some did not match the templates. Even after doing all this, you’re not done. Your PII is now basically “out there” in perpetuity. Credit freezes will also not deter non-credit frauds such as tax refund theft and health insurance fraud. For that, we are simply told to “be vigilant,” probably for the rest of our lives.