BY: JAY BRIJPAUL
Equifax is one of Canada’s largest credit reporting agencies. It is a depository where consumers’ valuable information such as social insurance numbers, driver licenses, date of births, addresses, credit cards and any other person and financial information, are kept. Banks and businesses use the database to look at clients’ financial spending habits.
A few months ago, the Equifax database was hacked and millions of valuable information were compromised. Hackers gained access to the database from May this year to the end of July and stole data from three countries, the US, Canada, and the UK. This stolen information can be used by criminals to commit fraud, such as identity theft, anytime in the future and seniors are usually targeted the most.
Equifax agreed to inform all consumers whose information was hacked. Equifax has a site, equifaxsecurity2017.com, where consumers can sign up for a free identity theft protection and can oversee their credit files’ activity for one year free of charge. There is a catch, however; by signing up, consumers lose their right to sue. Recently, Equifax changed their position and consumers will still have the right to sue in the event of identity theft from this incident. The cutoff date, however, is November 21st and is only applicable for US consumers. Equifax is working with Canadian regulators to iron out the next step. I advise Canadian consumers to inquire as well by calling Equifax at 866-447-7559.
It is important to review your credit cards, bank accounts, and insurance statements regularly, and to report any suspicious activity immediately. If you own a home, consider taking out title insurance. If your home is mortgage free, then, consider a line of credit. Although you may not need a line of credit, it makes it much more difficult for criminals to commit fraud when there is a line of credit or mortgage on a property.
Another option is to get a credit report freeze. This allows limited access to your credit report. Only your current creditors would be allowed to see your credit report. With a frozen credit report, other creditors cannot view your information and would not be able to approve a loan or increase a line of credit. If you are planning to apply for a loan or buy anything that requires a credit report, then you would have to unfreeze the report for that specific time.
There are three major credit reporting agencies with similar services: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. A credit report freeze does not affect your credit score in any way. To freeze you report you will need to call the companies and provide them with your name, address, date of birth, social insurance number and other personal information. Once the freeze is established, each company will provide you with a personal identification number (PIN) or a password that you will need when you want to unfreeze your report. To lift the freeze, you must give the company a minimum of three days notice. Equifax is currently bombarded with requests to freeze consumers’ credit reports and, as a result, is experiencing some problems.
Identity theft is here to stay and identity theft insurance is important to have. With your information, fraudsters can have access to your bank accounts, open new bank accounts, transfer bank balances, apply for loans, credit cards and other goods and services, make purchases, hide their criminal activities, obtain passports and receive government benefits. Identity theft is on the rise and you must be vigilant with your personal information.