Data Breach Update: Equifax Fraud Alert Expiring - Now What?

Credit freeze
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Where does the time go? It's already 2018 but we can't just forget about all the things that happened in 2017. Like a massive data breach. You remember, the Equifax one that exposed the Social Security numbers, address and credit information for over 145 million people.

That means, more than half the country's adult population had their personal information stolen. It's been three months since we learned of the hack and you might be one of the many Americans who opted for the company’s fraud alert protection. Well, that protection is expiring and you need to figure out your next steps.

RELATED | The Equifax Impact: How To Do A Credit Freeze

What happened?

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In September, Equifax admitted a major hack to their system. Many people, in an effort to protect their information, placed fraud alert on their TransUnion, Equifax and Experian credit reports. The alert requires lenders to contact you to determine if any new credit application is valid.

It’s a good protection but, here’s the catch. The fraud alert expires every 90 days. So, if you got it in September when the breach first happened, you need to do it again in late December or early January. And, then you would need to do it again, and again. 

So, there’s two other options. A credit freeze or a credit lock.

What’s The Different Between Freeze and Lock?

2 Wants to Know urged viewers for months to get a credit freeze which is a permanent solution against ID theft. But only 2 percent of Americans put a credit freeze or lock on their credit.

A credit freeze prevents lenders from pulling your credit report when you apply for credit. Freezes must be placed individually.

"You have to go to each bureau, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax and place a credit freeze at each of those bureaus," explained Janna Herron, Credit Expert with ValuePenguin

In order for a lender to pull credit, if you were applying for a loan or a credit card, you would have to unfreeze each account to allow lenders access. To unfreeze, you will also be asked for certain identifying information to complete the process.

Herron said, "You have to have the PIN number that the bureau provided to you when you put the credit freeze in place, cause you'll need that number to unfreeze your credit."

Experian says to unfreeze your account three days before applying for credit, while TransUnion says an unfreeze can be implemented in 15 minutes.

A credit lock works almost the same way. You must place a lock at each credit bureau. However, it takes a little less work to unlock your credit report.

"It still keeps lenders from getting your information just like a credit freeze, but you can unlock and lock a little bit easier by mobile app or online by clicking or swiping," said Herron. 

Experian says you can unlock your credit report instantly while TransUnion says you can unlock your credit “with a single swipe or click.” Once you’re done, you simply lock your credit once again.

Pros and Cons

While it might take a little longer to unfreeze your credit, it’s considerably cheaper to freeze your credit instead of locking it.

TransUnion offers a free credit lock service. Equifax plans to roll out a free credit lock service in February of 2018. Experian’s credit lock service costs $19.99 a month. Keeping in mind you have to apply for a lock through all three credit bureaus, if you put a credit lock on your accounts now, it would cost you $239.88 for 2018 .

In contrast, credit freezes cost up to $11 per credit bureau to freeze and unfreeze your credit.  In North Carolina, it’s free to freeze and unfreeze your credit.

So- lock or freeze- which one protects you better? Well, they both protect you the same; they keep thieves from getting your information. But, credit freezes are governed by state laws and allow you to sue a credit bureau if there's a huge data hack. Credit locks ban you from joining a class action lawsuit in case there's a hack. So, with a lower cost and better legal protections, Herron recommends a credit freeze.

So far, Equifax says they've seen very little criminal activity related to ID theft. But,  it's only been three months and hackers like to sit on your information and wait til you forget to use it. And remember, your social security number doesn't change. 

Wanna know how to put a freeze on your credit or your child's credit? Click here!