Did you know that you can help protect your credit with a credit freeze?
A credit freeze means that if someone tries to get information from the credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, etc.), they get blocked.
Does that mean people can't get information about you from these places?
Nothing is foolproof, but yes.
If someone hacks into one of the credit bureaus to steal identities, a freeze blocks them from access.
The thieves would have to hack the freeze to get the information.
That's highly unlikely.
I'll tell you why we froze our reports. You'll learn how to do the same if you decide to do so.
I'll also tell you how our bank card got hacked and how to avoid it.
The skimming scam
Maybe you've heard of this. I hadn't until it happened to me.
Yes, they're that smart and devious.
They also put devices inside gas pumps. Often, tiny cameras get installed that, unless you're looking, you would never see.
I used to use my bank card a lot (some of you right now are already questioning my sanity).
My wife and I are very diligent about checking our bank and credit cards online.
Cathy was looking at our bank account and noticed a couple of charges that looked strange.
The first was a $918.00 charge at the Post Office (who spends that kind of money there?).
The second charge was a $230.00 cash withdrawal. We rarely make those kinds of withdrawals and always talk to each other about it when we do.
We immediately called our bank, who promptly shut down the card.
How they did it
As it turns out, the ATM I used had a skimmer device on it.
These thieves had actually recreated my bank card, complete with the card number AND the PIN!
That's right, they also got the PIN.
In addition to the skimmer for the card, these crooks also install lookalike keypads to capture your PIN.
They secretly installed cameras over the keypad.
Fortunately, the bank put the money back and sent us a new card overnight. They must have increased the security on our account.
Shortly after, I went to use the card again and they had blocked it.
When I called, they said they noticed potentially nefarious activity and froze the account.
Good for them!
As it turns out, the charges were legit.
- Check the card reader – Before you put your card in an ATM, check the reader. Grab it, try to pull it off, move it left and right. If it moves, don't use it. Notify the bank branch immediately.
- Check the keypad – Same deal. Before using, wiggle some of the numbers. Grab it on the edges and see if it moves. If it does, see #1.
- Check for cameras – Take a look above the keypad. Look for tiny holes that look out of place. They may be on top, on the sides near the top, or even above on the border of the machine. If you see anything that looks suspicious, don't use it.
The video below does a great job of showing you how this works and what to do about it.
The Equifax breach
They estimated that more than 143 million users information may have been compromised. It was the largest data breach in history.
And like many companies, they handled the situation very poorly.
They had a security breach in March 2017. From May to July 2017, the breach turned into a major data breach.
Equifax didn't come clean about it until September 2017. They took a beating in the media and with the public for the delay.
If you're a glutton for punishment and want to relive the timeline, you can find it in this Wikipedia page.
Freezing your reports
Equifax set up a special website for customers to see if they got hacked.
Millions went to this site when Equifax finally decided to disclose the breach.
Here's the link – 2017 Cybersecurity Incident & Important Consumer Information
I've talked to people who say they have no plans to apply for cards, so there's no reason to worry.
Hackers don't care whether you're applying for credit or not. All they care about is getting your information.
Look at the numbers in the Equifax breach – over 143 million! That could be you!
Freezing your report locks the door to the hackers (again, to the extent it can).
So if you haven't done this, here are the first steps.
Go to the link above. When you get there, scroll down the page to the red button.
Here's a screenshot.
Click the red button and it will walk you through the process.
In the beginning, Equifax said the system got overrun and may have put out inaccurate info.
So, I went back several times over a few days to see if my result changed.
Each time I got the same result. It is likely I'd been compromised.
No matter the result, my recommendation is to freeze your account.
Scroll down further to until you see this:
Click on the Equifax link and follow the instructions.
It's a pretty simple process. They ask for identifying information. Once verified, you can complete the form.
They will establish a PIN number when you're done and send it in the mail. Make sure to keep that in a safe place.
If you want to unfreeze your report, you will need the PIN.
I'll tell you how to unfreeze shortly.
Click the Experian tab from the Equifax page (see above screenshot) and it takes you to this page:
Click the add security freeze tab to get started. When you click, you move down the page and hit the apply online button.
Similar to Equifax, you complete a form to identify yourself. Once verified, you're good to go.
Transunion is probably the simplest of the three.
Click their name on the Equifax page and here's where you go:
Transunion has a service called TrueIdentity that helps manage your Transunion account. They make it very easy to freeze or unfreeze your account.
Once your account is set up, you can freeze and unfreeze your account as needed.
You can also add premium services if you wish.
If for whatever reason you need to unlock the reports, the process is fairly simple.
If you apply for a mortgage, refinance, switch credit cards, or apply for new cards, they need to access your credit reports.
If you're applying for credit, ask the company what credit bureau they use.
Lenders often use one or two. Some use all three.
Once you find out, you can go to that agency and unfreeze your account. They will ask you if this is a temporary or permanent freeze.
Make it temporary. In most cases, you can unfreeze it for a day or two at the most.
Be sure to tell the lender you're unfreezing the reports for one day only. If they need longer, they will tell you.
In my experience, that's all they need. They will run the report the same day.
Doing this gives you access when you need it and protects you when you don't.
Here's how easy it is at TrueIdentity:
The image is from my account. As you can see, I have it locked. To unlock, click the button.
It's that simple.
My wife works in the intelligence community for a government contractor. I have a friend who is an FBI agent.
Another friend is a retired special forces guy who works for a government contractor. They operate securely as well.
(What can I say. We live outside of Washington, DC)
To the person, they tell me the number one security threat is cybersecurity. I trust these folks to take care of the big issues.
It's on each of us to take steps to protect our own information.
Let's face it, most of us aren't targets. However, the places online that store our information are very much targets.
The cyberthieves are working day and night to get to that information.
Following these steps can at least lock the door to some of these places.
Freeze your reports. Use password managers. Check for skimmers before using an ATM.
To the extent possible, don't use bank cards. Credit cards have much better fraud protection.
Pay them off every month like they are a checking account.
Check for cameras at the gas pumps.
These are some simple steps to take on your own. I'm glad we did. You will be too.
Now it's your turn. Have you had your bank or credit card hacked? Did your info get compromised in the Equifax breach like mine? Do you use a password manager? Let me know in the comments below.