After massive Equifax breach, let's make it free to freeze your credit
September 14 at 6:09 PM The credit reporting agency, Equifax, announced on Sept. 7 that a hack has impacted the credit histories of up to 143 million Americans. Here's what you should do if you believe you are affected. (Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)
Whatever your political affiliation, there is now one financial issue on which we can all agree.
We need Congress to pass legislation allowing consumers to temporarily freeze and unfreeze their own credit files at no charge to help thwart identity theft.
In case you missed it, the credit-reporting agency Equifax recently discovered that criminals had gained access to peopleâs names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driverâs license numbers.
In all, the hack could potentially impact 143 million U.S. consumers.
Stop. Just take that in.
More than 4 0 percent of all Americans are facing the possibility of identity theft. Their financial lives could turn into a nightmare.
With the information stolen from Equifax, identity thieves can theoretically access your bank account, file a tax return, open utility or mobile phone accounts, buy a car or even get medical treatment using your health insurance. They can also apply for a credit card. The hackers have pretty much all they need to steal your good name and live it up.
If youâve been following the Equifax fiasco, youâve probably heard by now that you should protect yourself by freezing your credit files.
A credit freeze is much more powerful than putting a fraud alert on your credit report. Itâs the difference between a criminal getting into Fort Knox and breaking into a small metal lockbox.
With a fraud alert, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit. But alerts are often overlooked.
A freeze blocks access to your credi t report and credit score. The credit bureau canât release any information in your file without your permission. (Although companies you currently do business with will still have access to your files.)
When youâre ready to get a loan or need someone like a prospective employer to view your file, you can temporarily unlock it, give the company access, and then lock down your files again.
However, in most states, unless youâve been a victim of identity theft, a credit freeze will cost you. What you pay varies by state, but the typical fee is $10.
âWhat truly galls me about the hack is that Equifax and the other credit agencies stand to make money from this egregious security failure,â one reader wrote. âThis situation really calls for stringent regulations.â
There isnât a federal credit freeze law. There needs to be one now.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced the Free Credit Freeze Act in the wake of the Equifax br each.
âCredit bureaus like Equifax make millions of dollars packaging and selling our personal information,â Wyden said. âAmericans shouldnât have to pay extra just to protect themselves from fraud.â
When it comes to the credit bureaus, âwe are the commodity,â said National Consumer Law Center attorney Chi Chi Wu. âWe canât walk with our feet. The freeze gives a measure of control.â
It was consumer pressure that finally resulted in a law giving consumers free access at annualcreditreport.com to their own credit reports every 12 months.
Equifax is waiving its freeze fee until Nov. 21.
Thatâs not good enough.
âWeâve been telling anyone whoâll listen to us that they should get a credit freeze,â Wu said. âProblem is that consumers need to pay for these freezes, at least at Experian and TransUnion. That seems unjust given that they are the victims in this. Senator Wydenâs bill addresses that injustice.â
Letâs all get behind this bill. This canât be a partisan issue. Too much of your financial information is at risk.
âRepublicans got their Social Security numbers hacked too,â Wu said.
Call your senator and House member to demand free freezes. If you arenât sure who represents you, go to whoismyrepresentative.com.
A Maryland reader named Diane said sheâs had trouble setting up a freeze on her reports since the Equifax breach. Itâs not an easy process. You have to separately contact each of the three major credit bureaus and navigate their unique systems. Married? This could mean paying six fees, because each spouse has his or her own credit file.
Diane and other readers complain they canât get through to the bureaus to get a freeze. No doubt, a lot of people are scared and have overwhelmed the systems. Diane is 66 and says sheâs mostly living on Social Security.
âIf someone quickly accessed my account and got my Social Security p ayment or my income for a week, I would not have the money to pay my bills, including my rent,â she said.
The Equifax breach was so large and so compromising that we should demand that our congressional representatives help us protect ourselves by making it free and easier to lock down our credit files.Source: Google News