If you or someone you know might be impacted by the recent Equifax data breach, you may be wondering how to protect your personal information from being misused. It can be worrisome to think about the possibility of your identity being stolen, but there are a few basic steps that you can take today towards safeguarding your personal data and protecting your credit. Rocket Lawyer is here to help you along the way.
1. Check your credit reports
Regularly reviewing your credit reports from the major agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) can be a good way to stay on top of any activity in your files. You can get a copy for free each year by visiting annualcreditreport.com or sign up for a credit monitoring service to alert you of changes more instantaneously. In the coming months, you will want to monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for any charges you don’t recognize—unusual activity could indicate identity theft.
2. Consider placing a credit freeze or fraud alert
Depending on your current plans to apply for loans or credit, you’ll generally have two options for protecting yourself from identity theft:
Request a credit freeze
If you are not in the market for loans or credit, the best way to protect yourself is to exercise your legal right to a credit freeze. Also known as a security freeze, a credit freeze completely shuts down access to your credit report, leaving you with a PIN (personal identification number) that allows only you to access it. Since most creditors need to see your credit report before approving a new account, a credit freeze makes it difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. That said, it won’t prevent a thief from making changes to any existing accounts.
There are several ways to freeze your credit, including making a Credit Freeze Request with Rocket Lawyer. Answer a few simple questions to create a tailored set of letters that you can easily download, print, and mail to all three credit bureaus. You can make a Credit Freeze Request for free today with a 7-day free trial of Rocket Lawyer membership.
Alternatively, you can visit each credit agency’s website and complete multiple online forms. You’ll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, and other personal information. There are no fees to add or remove a credit freeze as of September 21, 2018.
After receiving your Credit Freeze Request, each credit reporting company will send you a confirmation letter containing your unique PIN or password. Keep this information in a safe place, as you will need it if you choose to lift the freeze in the future.
Start your Credit Freeze Request
Answer a few questions, and we’ll take care of the rest.
Place a fraud alert on your files
If you are planning to apply for credit, you may want to issue a fraud alert instead of a full-on credit freeze. This keeps your credit report accessible to others, but warns potential creditors that you may be a victim of identity theft. A fraud alert is free and can be established by contacting any one of the three nationwide credit bureaus:
Equifax – 1-800-349-9960
Experian – 1‑888‑397‑3742
TransUnion – 1-888-909-8872
If you contact one bureau, they are obligated to notify the other two. That said, it’s never a bad idea to contact all three, if only for your own peace of mind.
There are three types of fraud alerts:
Initial Fraud Alert – If you’re concerned about identity theft, but haven’t yet become a victim, this fraud alert will protect your credit from unverified access for 90 days. You may want to place a fraud alert on your file if your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial, or account information are lost or stolen.
Extended Fraud Alert – Made for victims of identity theft, an extended fraud alert will protect your credit for seven years.-
Active Duty Military Alert – For those in the military who want to protect their credit while deployed, this fraud alert lasts for one year.
3. Report identity theft to the authorities
If you have noticed fraudulent activities on your accounts, there are several additional
actions that you should consider:
File a police report – This gives you certain legal rights when reporting the identity theft to creditors or credit agencies.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission – The FTC uses complaints to track patterns of fraud, which can help them identify and prosecute identity thieves.
Notify your creditors of the identity theft – You will want to close any accounts that have been opened fraudulently, as well as any accounts that have been tampered with. An Identity Theft Affidavit can assist creditors in investigating fraudulent use of your identity in a more formal way.
Still have questions?
Get answers for free with a Rocket Lawyer Premium Membership. Ask an On Call attorney about your specific situation and get a personalized answer within one business day.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.