Protect one of your biggest assets: freeze your credit

CBS MarketWatch's reporter, Aimee Picchi, recently interviewed me to learn how consumers might be better off a year after the massive 2017 Equifax data breach. Because I represent several Washington State lead plaintiffs as well as an Idaho lead plaintiff, I let her know that I could not comment directly on our litigation or anything that related to it. However, I let her know that, based on my discussions with over a 1,000 individuals whose data were compromised due to the breach, the first piece of advice I gave them: Freeze your credit.

Up until recently, one of the main reasons clients gave me for delaying freezing their credit was because it cost money. But in Washington State, earlier this year, we passed a new law that makes freezing consumer credit free. But soon consumers across the country, regardless of their state of residence, can freeze their credit for free as well. On September 21, 2018, each of the three largest credit rating agencies (CRAs), including Equifax, will be required to allow individuals to freeze their credit without charging them a cent. Now, unless you are poised to buy a house, car or take out a bank loan, you have no excuse to freeze your credit.

Why is freezing your credit so effective to protect your personal information? Well, first understand that almost everyone's social security number and other Personally Identifiable Information (PII) has been compromised in either the Equifax breach or one of the many breaches before it. This means that almost everyone's PII is available for bad actors to commit identity theft. However, once your credit is frozen (this is NOT the same as "locking" your credit, which is not nearly as effective), no one can use your information. I've seen firsthand how dozens of my clients, who were victims of identity theft, suddenly regained sanity after they froze their credit and informed several other agencies that they were ID theft victims.

Do yourself a favor and freeze your credit on Sept. 21st or soon thereafter. You will never know how smart this move is, until perhaps after it's too late.

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