Chances are you’re one of the 143 million Americans who’ve been victimized by the data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.
The breach started in mid-May and lasted through July. The hackers, who took advantage of Equifax’s decision not to patch a web-application vulnerability, stole names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers. They also took credit card numbers for about 209,000 consumers as well as personal information from Canadians and Brits.
Not long after the breach was disclosed, my husband attended a conference where cybersecurity expert Mark Lanterman, of Minneapolis-based CTO Computer Forensic Services, spoke. Lanterman said the first thing he did after he heard about the breach was to freeze his credit report at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. He said it makes no sense to do less than all three.
So I decided to follow the advice. You can do this by phone and snail mail, but I chose the online route. I hope others do the same, and I want to fill you in on my experience.
Of the three, TransUnion required me to create the most detailed profile. Not just personal information, such as my address, birth date and Social Security number, but a user name, password and secret question and answer. It also gave me the option of creating a PIN, which I did.
The entire process took 20 minutes, and TransUnion emailed me a receipt for the $10 it charged to do the freeze.
Equifax required less information than TransUnion. It didn’t require me to create a user name, password and secret question and answer. That bothered me a bit because this is one of those rare times when you actually feel better about providing more information—even if it takes longer. I’m pleased to report that Equifax didn’t have the nerve to charge a fee to do the freeze, but I’m also not feeling overwhelmed with gratitude, if you know what I mean.
At the end of the process, which took about five minutes, a screen appeared that said, “Click here to see the PDF.” I had no idea what this was, but I clicked on it, and I’m glad I did because it gave me my PIN. I wouldn’t have gotten it otherwise because, unlike Experian, Equifax does not email a PIN, which it generated.
Experian required about the same amount of information as Equifax to do the freeze. Like TransUnion, it charged me $10, and it gave me the option of creating my own PIN. This time I let Experian create the PIN. Unlike Equifax, Experian prompted me to click on a button to see my PIN. Even if I didn’t do it, Experian emailed it to me. The whole process took about five minutes.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Equifax provided the least satisfying experience, but I feel relief that I did this the same day I received a letter from a credit card company saying they received my application for a card—but had questions about the validity. Good thing, because I hadn’t applied and was able to put a stop on it. Better safe than sorry.
Jayne Di Vincenzo, AIF®, CEP® has 20 years of experience as a financial advisor and investment services provider. She holds her registrations and licenses including the 24 General Securities Principal, 53 Municipal Principal, Series 7, 63, 65, 31 and life and health insurance licenses with LPL Financial. Securities and financial planning offered through LPL Financial, A Registered Investment Advisor, member FINRA/SIPC. Contact her at 757-599-9111 or Jayne@LionsBridgeFA.com.
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