On September 7, 2017, Equifax announced a huge data breach that may affect as many 143 million Americans. Equifax is one of the three major credit reporting agencies. The breach is very serious because it most likely involves social security numbers, which are the ley to stealing a person’s identity. If you are affected, you will probably receive a communication from Equifax about steps you can take to protect your identity. They may offer you free credit report monitoring to help prevent fraud.

Here are some things you should know:

  1. The breach already occurred at some point in the past, we are just hearing about it now.
  2. The criminals may already have your information and could use it at any time to commit fraud.
  3. Credit report monitoring does not prevent fraud, it provides a notification to you when fraud occurs.

Your best option to prevent fraud is to freeze your credit reports. Here is more information about that, taken from a chapter in my newest book about identity theft and cybercrime which is available on this website.

Credit Freeze: A total lockdown of new account activity in your name and a proven way to protect against identity theft. Freezing prevents third parties from accessing your credit report, with some exceptions.

To explain, let’s take a hypothetical example. A crook obtains your social security number and other information about you and attempts to open a credit card account in your name. The credit card company will run a credit check on you (because your identity is being used) before the credit card is issued in your name, to the crook. If your credit report is frozen, the credit card company cannot get access to your credit report. If they can’t see your reports, they will not approve the credit card application. You might see that freezing your credit reports is a rock-solid way to prevent further fraud if you have been a victim of identity theft. Even if you have not been victimized, freezing your reports can be used to prevent fraud from occurring preemptively. You don’t have to be a victim of identity theft to freeze your credit reports, anyone can do it.

If you do freeze your credit reports, the only drawback is that you must unfreeze your credit reports if you are engaging in activity that requires a credit check. Credit freeze laws and costs vary by state. To check yours, go to your state Attorney General’s website and search for “credit report freezes.”