A woman in Washington state is speaking out after falling victim to identity theft around 15 times since early September, according to a local news station. That time period roughly matches when Equifax divulged to the public that it was the victim of a massive data breach — and the Seattle woman thinks the two incidents are related.
Her story illustrates the nightmarish ordeal that can begin after someone steals your personal information. The Equifax breach exposed more than 145.5 million people to identity theft, meaning their names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and, in some cases, even their credit card numbers are in danger of being accessed by unknown numbers of criminals.
Katie Van Fleet told KOMO-TV that it all started when she got a letter thanking her for opening a line of credit at Barneys New York. She did no such thing, so she reported it as fraud and thought everything was okay.
Sleepless in Seattle: Woman says she’s been a victim of ID theft more than a dozen times
Then came a deluge of letters from other companies and stores, welcoming her and thanking her for opening new credit lines.
“I didn’t think this would ever happen to me,” Van Fleet told KOMO. “So it’s been very frustrating. I feel extremely violated that somebody out there has my information, and I’m dealing with the repercussions of this.”
Trying to be proactive, Van Fleet said that she put a fraud alert on her account — but that didn’t stop anything. She soon got a notice that someone had opened an account with T-Mobile in her name and charged more than $3,000 on it.
According to the TV station, she only recently got the bogus charges to stop after putting a freeze on her credit.
This is why money expert Clark Howard is so adamant about credit freezes. He says it is the No. 1 way to stop identity fraud.
A lot of people think they are safeguarding their personal info when they get — or even worse, pay for — a fraud alert, but they are mistaken.
The difference between a fraud alert and a credit freeze can be illustrated this way: A fraud alert tells you somebody’s in your home. A credit freeze locks all the doors to your home.
Clark says not to make the mistake of only contacting Equifax when trying to freeze your credit. “It’s imperative that you freeze your credit with all three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion,” he says in our Credit Freeze Guide. Here is the contact info for the agencies:
- TransUnion: Visit their Credit Freeze page here or call them at 1-888-909-8872.
- Equifax: Visit their page to freeze your credit. Important note: With such high traffic to the website, if you can’t get your request processed, just wait about a week and try again. Via phone: 1-800-685-1111 (NY residents, 1-800-349-9960)
- Experian: Visit their Credit Freeze page here. Via phone: 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742). When calling, press 2 and then follow prompts for security freeze.
Clark is also a big proponent of setting up free credit monitoring with Credit Karma, which gives users online access to their credit reports anytime they like.