Personal Finance

Credit freeze logjams at Equifax appear to be easing

Key Points
  • Signing up for the Equifax service lets you freeze your credit report with the company.
  • You also should contact the other two national firms to lock your reports.
  • Fraud alerts add an additional layer of protection.
Credit reporting company Equifax corporate offices are pictured in Atlanta, Georgia.
Tami Chappell | Reuters

If you tried to sign up for free identity protection and credit monitoring at Equifax and gave up when it didn't work you should try again.

The sign-up page dedicated to helping consumers register for the service now appears to be working more smoothly. This is an improvement over two weeks ago when many consumers were directed to return later to sign up.

While the brouhaha over Equifax's bungled response to its data breach continues to simmer, your concern about fraudsters using your information should not diminish, experts say. Given that potentially 143 million consumers' private information — including names, birth dates, Social Security numbers and some driver's license numbers — was affected you should simply assume your data was compromised in the breach.

And although taking advantage of the Equifax service is a step in the right direction, it is not an all-encompassing solution.

Doing nothing is not a fraud-prevention strategy.
John Ulzheimer
president,The Ulzheimer Group

Consumers who do nothing to protect their credit reports might not even know fraud was committed until the debt collectors start calling them to collect on debts they never opened, says credit expert John Ulzheimer.

"Doing nothing is not a fraud-prevention strategy," said Ulzheimer, president of The Ulzheimer Group in Atlanta.

In addition to signing up for the Equifax service, here are other steps you can take to protect your personal information.

1. Check your financial statements

If you don't already review your bank and credit card statements, make it a habit to do so and quickly report any transactions you didn't make. Also make sure you check your credit reports to confirm no improper accounts are already there. Under federal law, you can check your full credit report at each of the three major national credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — once a year for free.

2. Freeze your credit reports

Doing this means a lender cannot access your report to check your credit score or history. It also means that if a criminal attempts to open a loan or credit in your name, the lender generally won't approve the application. Once you've signed up for the Equifax service, you can freeze your credit report for free at Equifax. You'll have to contact the other two firms to cover all your bases. Equifax is waiving its freeze fees until Nov. 21, the last day to sign up for its free service. Depending on where you live, the fees at the other two will run about $5 to $10 (although some states waive the cost for people age 65 or older). Keep in mind that you can temporarily unfreeze your report if you want to apply for a loan or credit card.

3. Create a fraud alert

Putting a 90-day fraud alert on your credit reports is free. To do this, you need to only alert one credit reporting firm, which in turn is legally obligated to share that with the others. The alert means that a lender seeking to approve an application must first contact you to verify the request is from you, not an imposter. You also can put an extended fraud alert on your report, which lasts seven years. Additionally, you can have both a freeze and fraud alert on your report at the same time.

Equifax acknowledges it sent customers to fake phishing site