143 million Americans are potentially affected by the unprecedented Equifax hack. If you’re the average person who’s afraid of having your data stolen – and by data, we mean your name, Social Security number, birth date, addresses, credit card numbers, and driver’s license number that were reportedly involved in this breach – you may have already taken some steps to limit the damage. But what if you’re in the process of buying a home or are getting ready to do so? How does this hack affect you, and what can you do to make sure you are protected?
Let’s start with the potential fallout for homebuyer. Say your Equifax file was looted but you’ve done little or nothing to detect fraudulent activity on one or more of your credit accounts. You sign a contract to buy a house, and you apply for a mortgage. If fraudulent new accounts rake up a significant amount of debt, that can affect your credit score. It creates a huge mess for those looking to qualify for home loans and those already in escrow.
Even if you have never used Equifax directly, the credit reporting agency could still have a lot of your personal information. You can go to the TrustID Premiere website to see if you were affected, and you have the choice to enroll in their TrustID Premiere Credit Monitoring Service. To protect your credit and prevent thieves from stealing your identity, pull your credit reports for free once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com. Look them over carefully to make sure there are not any fraudulent accounts and/or charges. If you see anything, get on the phone with the creditor right away and start the dispute process. If you’re in the process of applying for a home loan or are under contract, you’ll also want to call your lender immediately to alert them to what you found.
Finally, there has been quite a bit of discussion about credit freezes since news of the breach broke, with some consumers concerned that “turning off” their credit could potentially damage their score or negatively impact them in some other way, especially during the home buying process. A credit freeze is the most extreme method, but it’s also the most effective at preventing your information from being stolen and used to open new accounts. If you don’t want to lock out all creditors - perhaps you’re in the middle of mortgage shopping or refinancing - you can place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit that tells potential creditors to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name.
If you have any other questions or would like more information, feel free to give us a call or send us an email. We look forward to hearing from you soon.