I drove past Equifax’s corporate headquarters in Atlanta for the first time since the data breach and realized that I’ll never be able to look at that building the same way again.
The big red sign outside is a permanent reminder of the lifelong problem many of us will have to deal with.
On September 7, I learned through Equifax’s website that I’m likely one of the 145 million Americans whose personal data was stolen by criminals.
Hackers got all the information they need to steal identities, including Social Security numbers.
What you need to know about credit freezes
The night that I learned about the hack, my mind was racing. I woke up around 2 a.m. and found myself searching the internet for answers to the questions I had:
- Why did it take so long for Equifax to notify us?
- How can I trust Equifax’s ID theft protection after this?
- Why should I have to pay for a credit freeze?
When I spoke to money expert Clark Howard on the phone the next morning, he told me that Equifax’s year of free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection is worthless.
If Equifax offers 365 days of protection, what happens on day 366? The bad guys still have your Social Security number!
Read more: Don’t sign up for Equifax’s free credit monitoring! Here’s what to do instead
Take these 2 steps to protect yourself
To protect my identity, Clark told me to first sign up with Credit Karma’s free credit monitoring service and then initiate a credit freeze, also called a security freeze.
I’ve heard him talk about credit freezes for years, but this time I felt the urgent need to follow through — so I pulled up Clark’s credit freeze guide and went to work.
Here are five things that you can expect when you’re freezing your credit!
1. You must contact all three credit bureaus: This is about more than just freezing your credit with Equifax. You also have to request a credit freeze with Experian and TransUnion. All three of the credit bureaus have you enter basic information about yourself, as well as your Social Security number, to verify your identity. I was able to complete the credit freezes online by going to the links in Clark’s guide.
2. There may be a fee involved: Depending on where you live, this could cost you a few bucks. I’m a Georgia resident, so I had to pay $3 to each of the three credit bureaus to process the credit freeze. I paid by credit card without a problem. Here’s a state-by-state list of fees.
3. Have a pen and paper: After completing the transaction, you’ll be given a secret code or PIN to keep in a safe place. The credit bureaus may give you the option to print or email the PIN, but I thought the most secure method was to just write it down. I was a little worried about jotting down the code incorrectly, so I wrote down each PIN twice.
4. Lifting the freeze is an option: A credit freeze locks the criminals out, but it also locks everyone else out! If you need to temporarily lift the freeze to apply for credit or a job, contact the credit reporting agencies and have your secret codes handy. Clark has had a credit freeze in place for about a decade and has only lifted it half a dozen times. There’s usually a small fee involved for this as well.
5: The process is quick and easy: Freezing my credit wasn’t the hassle that I expected it to be. From start to finish, it took me 17 minutes to complete with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you aren’t able to request a credit freeze online and have to call customer service, you may have to wait a few minutes on hold. Clark has all the contact information in his step-by-step guide.
I don’t like that I had to pay for Equifax’s mistake by setting up the credit freezes, but Clark said it’s the best way to protect against identity theft — and that’s a headache I don’t want!
Clark said it’s possible that Equifax may be forced to reimburse us down the road, but there’s no guarantee.
“I hope as the lawsuits come up with Equifax that one of the things they’re forced to do is reimburse all of us for the cost of credit freezes and thaws that we have to do for the rest of our lives,” Clark said on the radio show.
Equifax has said it will waive the fees for placing and removing security freezes through January.
Read more: Credit Freeze Guide: The best way to protect yourself against identity theft