With Equifax’s announcement of its monumental data breach now nearly four months behind us, three related deadlines are upon us.
All three deadlines fall on Wednesday. One is more important than the others, though, because it involves the strongest form of protection against identity theft in the wake of events like the hacking of Equifax.
Free credit freezes
Credit freezes are generally considered the best way to protect your credit. They are regulated by state law, so consumers are not liable for losses if a freeze goes awry, as we detailed in a prior post.
Jan. 31 is the last day on which Equifax will waive credit-freeze fees. After Wednesday, you would have to pay Equifax whatever credit-freeze fee is allowed in your state.
So, if you have yet to freeze your credit, take advantage of this “freebie” — particularly if your personal information may have been compromised by the Equifax breach. If you don’t know whether you or other members of your household were impacted, find out on Equifax’s “Cyber Incident” website.
Just note that for the best protection, you must freeze your credit with all three of the major nationwide credit reporting companies, not just Equifax. That means you must contact all three and follow each company’s protocol for freezes.
Also, the other credit reporting companies, Experian and TransUnion, may charge you a fee to freeze your credit. Credit-freeze fees vary by state, although the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reports that they commonly range from $5 to $10.
To learn more about how credit freezes work, check out “After Equifax Data Hack, Should I Freeze My Account?”
Free TrustedID Premier, including free credit locks
Jan. 31 is the last day to sign up for TrustedID Premier for free. Equifax started offering TrustedID Premier after announcing its data breach, describing it as an “identity theft protection and credit file monitoring product.” You can sign up on the “Cyber Incident” site.
As with credit freezes, Equifax says even folks who were supposedly unaffected by the breach can sign up for TrustedID Premier for free. But while it doesn’t hurt to sign up for this service, it also won’t help protect you like a credit freeze.
Credit monitoring doesn’t prevent identity theft. Instead, it notifies you after the fact. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson, who has detailed multiple downsides of credit monitoring, explains:
“Monitoring your credit is marketed as if it’s a burglar alarm that keeps bad guys out. But what it more closely resembles is an alarm that’s tripped as the bad guys are leaving. By definition, credit monitoring can only monitor transactions that have already occurred. What you want is to prevent them from happening in the first place.”
Additionally, Equifax is only offering TrustedID Premier for free for one year. If you take advantage of Equifax’s free credit freeze, by contrast, it will remain in effect for a lot longer.
Credit freezes expire after seven years in a few states, according to the FTC. However, in most states, a credit freeze remains in effect until you ask a credit reporting company to lift it.
Jan. 31 also is the date by which Equifax says it will start offering a “credit lock.” This service is part of Equifax’s TrustedID Premier offerings, however. So, the credit lock is only free for one year if you sign up for TrustedID Premier by Jan. 31.
But like credit monitoring, a credit lock cannot offer the same level of identity theft protection as a credit freeze. We explain this further in “Why a Credit Freeze Beats Equifax’s Free ‘Credit Lock.'”
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