A recent consumer survey suggests that half of all Americans still haven’t checked their credit report since the Equifax breach last year exposed the Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and other personal information on nearly 150 million people. If you’re in that fifty percent, please make an effort to remedy that soon.
Credit reports from the three major bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — can be obtained online for free at annualcreditreport.com — the only Web site mandated by Congress to serve each American a free credit report every year.
Annualcreditreport.com is run by a Florida-based company, but its data is supplied by the major credit bureaus, which struggled mightily to meet consumer demand for free credit reports in the immediate aftermath of the Equifax breach. Personally, I was unable to order a credit report for either me or my wife even two weeks after the Equifax breach went public: The site just kept returning errors and telling us to request the reports in writing via the U.S. Mail.
Based on thousands of comments left here in the days following the Equifax breach disclosure, I suspect many readers experienced the same but forgot to come back and try again. If this describes you, please take a moment this week to order your report(s) (and perhaps your spouse’s) and see if anything looks amiss. If you spot an error or something suspicious, contact the bureau that produced the report to correct the record immediately.
Of course, keeping on top of your credit report requires discipline, and if you’re not taking advantage of all three free reports each year you need to get a plan. My strategy is to put a reminder on our calendar to order a new report every four months or so, each time from a different credit bureau.
Whenever stories about credit reports come up, so do the questions from readers about the efficacy and value of credit monitoring services. KrebsOnSecurity has not been particularly kind to the credit monitoring industry; many stories here have highlighted the reality that they are ineffective at preventing identity theft or existing account fraud, and that the most you can hope for from them is that they alert you when an ID thief tries to get new lines of credit in your name.
But there is one area where I think credit monitoring services can be useful: Helping you sort things out with the credit bureaus in the event that there are discrepancies or fraudulent entries on your credit report. I’ve personally worked with three different credit monitoring services, two of which were quite helpful in resolving fraudulent accounts opened in our names.
At $10-$15 a month, are credit monitoring services worth the cost? Probably not on an annual basis, but perhaps during periods when you actively need help. However, if you’re not already signed up for one of these monitoring services, don’t be too quick to whip out that credit card: There’s a good chance you have at least a year’s worth available to you at no cost.
If you’re willing to spend the time, check out a few of the state Web sites which publish lists of companies that have had a recent data breach. In most cases, those publications come with a sample consumer alert letter providing information about how to sign up for free credit monitoring. California publishes probably the most comprehensive such lists at this link. Washington state published their list here; and here’s Maryland’s list. There are more.
It’s important for everyone to remember that as bad as the Equifax breach was (and it was a dumpster fire all around), most of the consumer data exposed in the breach has been for sale in the cybercrime underground for many years on a majority of Americans. If anything, the Equifax breach may have simply refreshed some of those criminal data stores.
That’s why I’ve persisted over the years in urging my fellow Americans to consider freezing their credit files. A security freeze essentially blocks any potential creditors from being able to view or “pull” your credit file, unless you affirmatively unfreeze or thaw your file beforehand.
With a freeze in place on your credit file, ID thieves can apply for credit in your name all they want, but they will not succeed in getting new lines of credit in your name because few if any creditors will extend that credit without first being able to gauge how risky it is to loan to you (i.e., view your credit file).
Bear in mind that if you haven’t yet frozen your credit file and you’re interested in signing up for credit monitoring services, you’ll need to sign up first before freezing your file. That’s because credit monitoring services typically need to access your credit file to enroll you, and if you freeze it they can’t do that.
The previous two tips came from a primer I wrote a few days after the Equifax breach, which is an in-depth Q&A about some of the more confusing aspects of policing your credit, including freezes, credit monitoring, fraud alerts, credit locks and second-tier credit bureaus.
After freezing your credit with all three bureaus, ask any finance-related organization with which you need to do business which of the three bureaus they use. They will probably need to dig into it and call you back. You only need to “thaw” one frozen bureau at a time. Transunion allowed me a free temporary “thaw” online. (Great job, Transunion!)
Another company used Equifax (boo, hiss). When I needed that company able to run my credit, instead of having an online option for a “thaw” (I looked; there was no online option), I called their help line and convinced them to give me a free thaw for a few days. Don’t be afraid to get them on the phone to save a few bucks. (In my location, $10 per bureau per freeze, so a temporary thaw at $0 is a good deal and worth my time on the phone, versus spending another $10+ to refreeze.)
I am a senior citizen and in talking with other seniors I have found that most of them do not understand how the credit bureaus work. Most of them have credit cards which they use for incidentals that they buy so as not to carry cash. I believe this is why very few individuals have check their credit reports.
Brian – Will you please update? —Spent an hour trying (successfully) to reach the Talx/ Work Number /Workfarce sic Solutions (=lax privacy/ sharing of our private compensation data) to place the freeze. After 2 disconnections via internal transfers, one failure of security questions, finally got it dun over the phone. Note: Call the Disputes Dept. 866-222-5880! or main number 800-996-7566 opts-1-2-3 to get a human to start the process. Good luck and thanks to Brian!
I would not recommend using annualcreditreport.com
I asked for all three and only got Transunion. Eperian was formatted so that half of each page was cut off even when I printed it (no not my browser) and Equifax won’t deliver a report online so you have to mail a request with ID documents. So whats the point? Also I froze all three previously but that did not seem to prevent getting reports! Maybe the freezes have expired. Of course the agencies won’t remind you so I guess I should check.
That’s because a freeze prevents OTHER people from pulling your reports. Much in the same way that checking your own credit report DOESN’T result in a HP or “hard inquiry”, a freeze does not prevent you from viewing your own reports.
All these articles make a fatal mistake, the Equifax breach includes SS#’s Drivers license and all our prior addresses. None of which are monitored or will ever show up on credit reports. Elizabeth Warren when grilling former Equifax CEO rightly said this is a breach that will haunt Americans for the rest of their lives.
Hello Mr Krebs. After the first bad publicity I moved to ClearScore but am now horrified to find that it is an “Official Partner with Equifax”. (Not sure if this will work – I can’t open in any browser: http://api.getblueshift.com/email_browser_view?uid=8b02271f-c551-494b-8c22-9832f479a705&mid=027cef3b-5cb0-4660-a690-cb273adf459d&eid=90bd8040-3f0a-4b0b-b348-bd7790c6ec86)
It scores 4.5 in Trust Pilot.
I understand they get all their info from Equifax so will ClearScore customers be at risk too? (They haven’t made any announcement and never respond to the question.)
Try contacting trusthacker543, that’s his g mail account so add at g mail dot com.. Just send him an email and let him know what you want to get done.. He will put you through it all. I can vouch for him.
Thanks Brian. With freezes in place, I had no problem getting my reports thru annualcreditreport.com
Thanks for all you reporting on this. I see several commenters having problems getting a free downloadable report from annualcreditreport.com, but it may be browser related. I too got an error (using Safari on a Mac with Adblock, Ghostery and other protections) that I must snail mail in a form.
I tried again with Chrome, which I do not have “locked down” and it worked perfectly for Experian and Equifax. Of course, your mileage may vary…
Now in Thailand ….had much fraudulent activity on my accounts. I think it may have been from Equifax hack as they are using old cards I haven’t used for years Also drivers license was stolen. Had to close all my accounts and auto pay. Please help
Equifax’s customer service is horrible and they just you the runaround. Til this day, my mother hasn’t received her pin. She’s been waiting since last year.
“Child Pornography – Indian Cyber Army In Talk With India today
In the docket of contributors and consumers of child pornography despite a series of crackdown, India has emerged out to be one of the biggest. In India every 40 seconds and upto 35-38% of porn uploaded is related to children or teenagers; Kerala being on top of the list in uploading such content while Haryana leads in viewing it on mobile.
As per 2014 report of a daily newspaper, there has been a 100% increase in cases of publication or transmission of obscene material including child pornography using electronic means in just one year i.e. in between 2012-13 many state that one of the reason for change in the temperament of people and increase in the number of minor rape victims is partially due to child pornography or easy access to such materials.
What does this have to do with the article?
Hi Brian & Friends,
I have a simple question that I am torn about. The 3 credit bureaus + Innovis have the option to create online accounts within them to dispute information, pull reports, and so on. Do most of you create online accounts for these websites? I try very hard not to create additional accounts, but then I think if someone
malicious creates an account in my name then i will not be able to create my account later on. Thoughts? Advice? Thank you –