The credit bureau Equifax will pay between $575 million and $700 million to settle state and federal investigations related to a massive security incident that exposed the personal information of more than 145 million people two years ago.
Under the agreement announced by the Federal Trade Commission on Monday, Equifax will pay at least $300 million to a fund that will provide affected consumers with credit monitoring services to help thwart identity theft and fraud.
As the largest-ever settlement for a data breach heads toward court approval, you can put a deep freeze on your three major credit reports and start monitoring your accounts regularly to prevent fraudsters from opening credit cards and other loans in your name.
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Criminals are increasingly opening phone, utility, bank and other types of accounts that don’t require your credit report for approval. They use these accounts as their own, never pay the bill and go undetected until the bogus account goes to collections.
Even worse, some criminals can move money out of a compromised bank or PayPal account of yours and into a fake checking or savings account they set up in your name. By the time you discover the money transfer, it’s too late.
More than 44% of victims of fraudulent accounts reported in 2017 that thieves had set up fake mobile phone and bank services in their names, up from 27% in 2016, according to an annual fraud survey from Javelin Strategy and Research, a Pleasanton, California-based research and consulting firm.
Identity-theft complaints involving landlines, mobile phones, medical services, insurance and apartment rentals also rose significantly from 2016 to 2017, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
“They can open payday loans and new mobile phone accounts. They can use information to run insurance scams or get employment,” says Al Pascual, head of fraud and security at Javelin. “They can do so much with your personal information.”
The stakes are even higher for Americans following 2017’s huge data breach at Equifax – one of the three major credit bureaus. The hack exposed the personal data of 148 million Americans, including Social Security numbers, often required as a key identifying factor to open new accounts.
To better safeguard your financial life, you should monitor or lock down when possible other consumer reports that detail your banking, utility and insurance history. Here are the ones you need to know about, and here’s how to respond. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides a complete list of consumer reporting companies at: s3.amazonaws.com/files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_consumer-reporting-companies-list.pdf.
Pasqual recommends freezing your reports at Innovis, ChexSystems and the National Consumer Telecommunications & Utilities Exchange (NCTUE). You should also request a free report from each to check for any errors every 12 months.
- Innovis provides information to help companies detect and prevent fraud. You can get your free report at www.innovis.com/personal/creditReport and request a security freeze at www.innovis.com/personal/securityFreeze.
- ChexSystems reports information on checking account applications and histories. Banks and credit unions use these reports to determine whether to approve a new bank account. To get your free report and request a freeze, go to the company website at www.chexsystems.com and click “Free FACTA Report” and “Security Freeze Information.”
- NCTUE collects telecom, pay-TV and utility-connection requests, account payment histories, defaults and fraudulent accounts. Get your free report and request a security freeze at www.nctue.com/Consumers.
Consider a freeze; monitor regularly:
CoreLogic Credco, LexixNexis and SageStream provide supplemental consumer reports to lenders, retailers, utilities and phone service providers among others.
These reports can include property data, tax payment status, rental applications, collection accounts, bankruptcies, liens, judgments and child support obligations. Request a copy of your report annually and consider a freeze if you want added protection.
Freeze when applicable; monitor regularly:
Several companies collect information on payday loans, check-cashing services, rent-to-own transactions and other alternative financial products that cater to lower-income or subprime consumers.
- Clarity Services
- CoreLogic Teletrack
- MicroBilt / PRBC
You should get a free report each year from these companies even if you haven’t used one of these products. You want to make sure no one has obtained one of these financial products illegally in your name.
If you have used these products before and have a legitimate report, freeze it to prevent fraudsters from opening new payday loans or other alternative financial products in your name. You can freeze your report at Clarity Services, CoreLogic Teletrack FactorTrust and MicroBilt/PRBC.
These companies provide check-screening or verification services for retailers, financial institutions, home improvement professionals, auto repair shops, medical and dental offices, among other businesses. You can’t freeze these reports, but you should request a free copy every year to check for inaccuracy and unauthorized accounts.
- Certegy Check Services
- CrossCheck Inc.
- Early Warning Services
- Global Payments Check Services Inc.
- TeleCheck Services
- Monitor when needed:
If a potential employer requires a background check before hiring, ask for the name of the screening company and request a copy of the report to fact check. Common employment screening companies include:
- Accurate Background
- American DataBank
- First Advantage Corporation (also offers free security freeze)
- General Information Services Inc. (GIS)
Find out which tenant screening company a potential landlord uses and request a copy of the report. Common ones include:
- Contemporary Information Corp. (CIC)
- CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions
- Experian RentBureau
- First Advantage Corporation Resident History Report (also offers free security freeze)
- LeasingDesk (Real Page Inc.)
Before applying for property, auto, homeowners or private medical, life, disability and long-term care insurance, get a copy of your specialty insurance report from the following that apply:
- A-PLUS Property (homes and commercial buildings)
- C.L.U.E. Inc. (personal property & auto reports)
- Drivers History
- Insurance Information Exchange (motor vehicle records)
- MIB Inc. (medical condition records)