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Protecting Your Identity and Financial Future   Arrow divider image - marks separation between nested pages that are listed as breadcrumbs.

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By: Gisele Jefferson, Family and Consumer Sciences, Golden Plains Area

Yes, it is alarming; the Equifax data breach may have exposed more than half the adults in this country, as many as 143 million, to identity theft and financial fraud.  Names, social security numbers, birthdates, and other information including some credit card numbers were stolen from their data system.  We should all be on High Alert!  Unfortunately, there have been so many data breaches in recent months and years, people are becoming numb and complacent. However, this is not the time to be so preoccupied with football, politics, or life in general, to postpone taking action to protect your personal information and finances.

Equifax is routing consumers to a special webpage or telephone number to sign up for their one-year of free credit and identity theft monitoring.  However, there is one important consideration before you do.  Their free service agreement also includes a special arbitration clause –a statement that would waive your right to participate in any class-action lawsuits that may arise from this incident.  The Denver Post is keeping up with this issue, and since posted additional updates.

Take a couple minutes to inform yourself of the importance of your Credit Report, and the simple steps you can take to check and protect your records.

Read and sign up for the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information Blog at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017.  There are three current blogs related to identity protection, freezing your credit, and being aware and prepared for telephone or email scams following this most recent breach. If your identity has been stolen and used fraudulently, the FTC also has a 40 page free downloadable booklet, Identity Theft – A Recovery Plan. Act now to notify the credit bureaus, your bank and credit card companies in relation to the information and accounts that may be compromised.

One of Extension’s national leaders in personal finance, Barbara O’Neil, found herself in a virtual gridlock as she attempted to contact Equifax, Experian and Transunion (the Big-3 credit reporting agencies – CRA) to put a Fraud Alert on her credit records.  She added information about using a mail-in form to request the credit freeze. Check out her blog at http://moneytalk1.blogspot.com.   O’Neil closes with this advice, “Double-check the addresses for security freezes on each CRA’s web site. Some did not match the templates. Even after doing all this, you’re not done. Your PII (personal identification information) is now basically “out there” in perpetuity. Credit freezes will also not deter non-credit frauds such as tax refund theft and health insurance fraud. For that, we are simply told to “be vigilant,” probably for the rest of our lives.”

You may want to consider identity or other credit monitoring services many companies offer after a data breach. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has this advice. Identity monitors scan personally identifiable information in credit applications, public records, websites, and other places for any unusual activity that could be signs of identity theft. Some services may help you watch for problems. They often include a credit monitoring service that watches your credit reports and alerts you to changes to the accounts listed on your credit report. If you’re offered or considering an identity monitoring or credit monitoring service, make sure you check for trial periods, fees, cancellation requirements, and other restrictions so you don’t face unexpected fees, charges, or other limitations.  If you’re having trouble with a financial product or service, you can submit a complaint with the CFPB online or call (855) 411-CFPB (2372).   Do your homework before you buy.

There are key differences between Fraud Alert and Credit Freeze. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has this advice concerning free and low-cost options for additional protection from identity theft.

Security freezeA security freeze on your credit report generally prevents new credit and accounts from being opened in your name. You can place a freeze on your credit file at any time, but you must contact each credit reporting company.

How it works – When there is a freeze, creditors can’t access your reporting file and therefore won’t offer new credit. This helps prevent identity thieves from opening fraudulent accounts in your name. However, this also means you won’t be able to apply for credit as easily if you were planning to open a new account or apply for a loan.

Fraud alertsfraud alert requires creditors to take steps to verify your identity before opening a new account, issuing an additional card, or increasing the credit limit on an existing account. A fraud alert doesn’t prevent a lender from opening credit in your name in the same way a freeze does, but it does require that lenders take additional steps to verify your identity first. When you place a fraud alert on your credit report at one of the nationwide credit reporting companies, it must notify the others.

How it works – There are two types of fraud alerts. Initial fraud alerts: Credit reporting companies will keep the alert on your file for 90 days. After 90 days the initial fraud alert will expire and be removed, and you can place another one if you want. Extended alerts: An extended alert is for identity theft victims and is good for seven years. It requires that creditors contact you through the phone number or other contact method you designate to verify you’re the person making the credit request.