Data Breaches

Equifax Data Breach: Do I Need a Credit Freeze?

By Steve Symanovich, a Symantec employee

 

The Equifax data breach has fueled a spike in credit freezes.

No wonder. The Equifax breach may have exposed the personal information of approximately 143 million consumers. Included in the haul were names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses—essential data for someone seeking to steal your identity.

Consumers are rushing to freeze their credit reports as a step to help protect themselves from identity theft.

A smart move? Yes, in many cases. But it’s not enough to deal with the potential fallout from the Equifax data breach.

In this article, you’ll learn about the pros and cons of a credit freeze. You also find out its limitations in helping to protect you from identity theft.

Should I get a credit freeze? The pros

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recommends you consider placing a credit freeze if you’re concerned you may have been a victim of identity theft.

Here are some of the advantages of a credit freeze:

  • It helps block new lines of credit – A credit freeze restricts who can see your credit report. That means potential creditors—such as a credit card company or financial lender—cannot access your credit report. That makes it less likely an identity thief can open new accounts in your name.

    That’s because creditors want to see your credit report before they decide whether to approve a new account. It doesn’t matter if you’re the one seeking to open an account or if it’s an identity thief.

  • It’s fairly easy to get – All you have to do is contact each of the three major credit reporting companies.

    Equifax: 1-800-685-1111 or equifax.com
    Experian: 1-888-397-3742 or experian.com
    TransUnion:1-800-680-7289 or transunion.com

    You'll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. You may have to pay. Credit freezes are only free under the various state laws for defined categories of consumers like for those who are already identity theft victims. The cost for placing a credit freeze varies, but commonly ranges from free to $10.

    It appears that Equifax is going to waive the fee for placing a credit freeze on your Equifax report for a period of time; however, each bureau must be contacted separately for a credit freeze and each may charge a fee—meaning, Equifax’s free offer will not extend to your placing a freeze at TransUnion and Experian.

  • It remains in place – While the law varies by state, a credit freeze stays in effect generally unless you lift or thaw the freeze. Pay close attention to the confirmations you receive from bureaus that your freeze has gone into effect, particularly the notices and disclosures specific to the laws of your state. In all states, you can thaw a freeze at any time.

    After you make a request, a credit reporting company is required to lift the freeze within a defined period of time. That may be as little as 15 minutes or as much as three business days, depending on your state law. The lift may be in effect for a period of time or for a particular creditor. The credit freeze will go back into effect for a period of time, once the time it was lifted for expires.

    Again, depending on your status under the particular state law, meaning whether you are an identity theft victim or other recognized free category, you may incur a cost for the lift.

  • Existing creditors still have access – Your existing creditors, such as a bank lender or credit card company, can still access your credit report to determine whether you still meet the terms for the credit they have granted you. An example of this is a credit card issuer may review your credit periodically to determine if you continue to qualify for a particular credit limit or interest rate.

Do I need a credit freeze? The cons

A credit freeze may help prevent an identity thief opening accounts in your name. But it may not lessen some other personal and financial risks. Plus, managing access to your credit report takes work.

Here are some of the disadvantages associated with a credit freeze.

  • No protection for existing accounts – Data thieves may have enough of your personal information to penetrate your existing accounts—your credit cards, your bank account. They could charge purchases or withdraw money. You will still need to monitor your accounts for fraudulent transactions.

  • No immediate access for legitimate reasons – A lot of people, companies and institutions need to see your credit report for legitimate reasons. These could include a potential employer, when you apply for a job; a landlord, when you want to rent an apartment; a cellphone service provider, when you want to switch plans. What if you want to buy insurance or sign up for a new credit card? In all of these cases, you’ll have to plan ahead to provide access to your credit report.

  • Added costs in time and money – It takes effort to lift a credit freeze when you need to provide access to your credit report and if you don’t fit into a certain category under your state’s law, you have to pay a fee.

  • No defense against other types of identity theft – A credit freeze helps to address one financial challenge—fraudulent new accounts—but the information stolen in the Equifax breach raises other risks. If identity thieves have your Social Security number and other personal data, that can lead to medical identity theft, where a thief could obtain medical care or prescription drugs in your name. Employment identity theft is another risk—someone may use your Social Security number to land a job. Then there’s tax-related identity theft. A thief might use your Social Security number to get a fraudulent tax return.

Credit freeze? Do what’s best for you

A credit freeze can give you some protection from identity theft, but it doesn’t cover all the risks.

Other ways to help protect yourself include fraud alerts, credit monitoring, and identity theft protection services. A quick look:

  • A fraud alert requires creditors to take reasonable steps to verify that it’s you and not a criminal seeking a new credit card or loan.
  • Credit monitoring services track changes to one or more your credit reports, including applications for a new credit card or a loan. They can also flag suspicious charges.
  • Identity theft protection services typically provides credit file monitoring at one or more of the three credit reporting agencies and sometimes a credit score from one or more agency. Services may include alerts when your personally identifiable information is used in ways that may not show up on your credit report. Identity theft protection may also provide restoration services that help victims resolve various identity theft issues.

So, do you need a credit freeze? It can help.

Symantec Corporation, the world’s leading cyber security company, allows organizations, governments, and people to secure their most important data wherever it lives. More than 50 million people and families rely on Symantec’s Norton and LifeLock comprehensive digital safety platform to help protect their personal information, devices, home networks, and identities.

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