Why Freezing Your Credit Won’t Fully Protect You After the Equifax Breach

Financial protection measures aren't enough to prevent all forms of identity theft in the wake of Equifax's hacking. Here's what else you can do.

Why Freezing Your Credit Won’t Fully Protect You After the Equifax Breach Photo by PR Image Factory / Shutterstock.com

Check credit reports, freeze your credit and monitor financial statements for signs of fraud — it’s the advice seemingly heard round the world after news broke that Equifax had been hacked. But it’s not enough.

Freezing your credit is arguably the single best measure against identity theft. It will block would-be thieves from opening credit accounts in your name, for example. But a credit freeze won’t protect you from every type of identity theft.

Consumer Reports warned recently:

“With the information that hackers got, including access to Social Security numbers, birth dates, and an unspecified number of driver’s license numbers, you need to take other steps to help lock down your finances.”

Other statements to monitor

Regularly reviewing your financial statements — like those you receive each month from banks or credit card companies — is a great way to catch financial fraud early on. But don’t stop there.

To help catch medical identity fraud early on, regularly monitor statements from your insurance companies. Consumer Reports suggests keeping an eye out for health care providers you never used or treatments you never received.

To help catch tax fraud early on, regularly monitor your Internal Revenue Service account. Pay attention to when tax returns are filed and what refunds are issued, CR says.

The best protection against tax fraud is to obtain what the IRS calls an identity protection PIN, or IP PIN, according to CR. No one can file a tax return in your name without that number. But not everyone is eligible for an IP PIN — see the IRS website’s “Get An Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN)” page.

Other reports to check

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are the three major credit reporting companies in the U.S. Get a copy of the credit report that each company has on file for you, as they may differ. For step-by-step details, check out “How to Get Your Free Credit Report in 6 Easy Steps.”

While those three companies dominate credit reporting in the U.S., they aren’t the only consumer reporting companies. A host of specialty companies you’ve likely never heard of keep track of various other aspects of consumers’ lives.

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, explains:

“The information specialty consumer reporting companies collect depends on the reporting company and its specialty industry. … You might not know these reports exist unless you run into a problem, such as not getting a job, lease, insurance or checking account, or when a utility or cellphone company asks you to put down a deposit before starting service with you.”

Like the three major credit reporting companies, many of these specialty consumer reporting companies are required by federal law to provide you with a free copy of your report every 12 months — if you ask for it. Others may be able to charge a fee for your report, the CFPB says.

The CFPB’s “List of consumer reporting companies” is one of the handiest handouts I’ve ever found on the federal agency’s website. It lists major consumer reporting companies and tells you how to contact them, what information they track and whether they must provide your report for free.

The handout can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to request your report from every consumer reporting company in existence. Consumer Reports suggests requesting your report from the following companies:

  • MIB (tracks medical information)
  • Milliman IntelliScript (tracks medical information)
  • Certegy Check Services (verifies checks)
  • ChexSystems (verifies checks)
  • TeleCheck (verifies checks)

Reviewing your reports from medical consumer reporting companies is another step you can take to catch medical identity theft.

Reviewing your reports from the three major check verification companies will enable you to find out whether any bad checks have been attributed to your driver’s license by someone using a fraudulent license in your name.

To the same end, ask your state’s motor vehicles department for a copy of your driving record, Consumer Reports says. The report generally costs about $10.

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