By now, you’ve heard of the data breach at consumer credit reporting agency Equifax. Not to try to engage in scare mongering, but it’s clear that this data breach was a whopper.
Of note to anyone in the midst of a real estate transaction is the possibility that the Equifax data breach could affect your deal. Vigilance on the part of your lender and escrow agent are vital right now.
You might have heard that instituting a freeze on your credit is a good idea. Yes – and we’ll touch on more about that below. The term “credit freeze” might be a little misleading, however; it doesn’t prevent you from opening an account or applying for a loan (whew!).
Below are some tips on how to respond to the data breach. But before we begin, remember this: Don’t do anything online on public wifi!
How to respond to the Equifax data breach
The first step is to visit annualcreditreport.com. From this site, residents of Bend, Oregon, can receive a free credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) once a year. Right now, request a free report from only one of the three, and repeat for the remaining two agencies every four months.
Next, open a free account with Credit Karma. Create your Credit Karma account before freezing your credit. Credit Karma provides credit scores and credit monitoring, which are especially important in the aftermath of the Equifax data breach.
Then visit the five credit bureaus and freeze your credit: Experian, TransUnion, Equifax, Innovis and ChexSystems.
Most people in Bend, Oregon, are talking only about the major three credit agencies. But in my research, there’s a lot of support for locking down all five.
When you freeze your credit, keep these things in mind (from a Clark.com article):
Expect to pay money. In Oregon, for those who have not been a victim of identity theft, there is a $10 charge to freeze your credit. Experian is offering free credit freezes for those initiating them within 30 days of the Sept. 7 announcement of the data breach.
Have a pen and paper ready. You will receive a personal identification number (PIN) after the transaction. Write it down – twice – and store it in a secure but memorable location.
You can “thaw” your frozen credit (often a temporary lift is executed) to apply for credit or a job by contacting the credit reporting agencies. Have your PINs available, and expect to pay again.
Credit experts have recommended signing up for “two-tier authentication” with banks and other financial institutions.
With two-tier authentication, after a customer signs in with his usual password, a second ID number is transmitted to him by text or a phone call, and that second number also needs to be entered to gain access to the account.
And of course, even after the initial scare is over, the Equifax data breach is a reminder that we in Bend, Oregon, have to always monitor our credit.
If you’re interested in reading more about this, this article from a television station in Atlanta – where home of Equifax’s corporate headquarters — provides a lot of strong information.