Q: Do I need to be concerned about data security?
A: As a consumer, you should always be concerned with the security of your personal data. As a customer of Mortgage Equity Partners (“MEP”), you can feel confident that your personal data is protected. We are mandated to have controls in place by state and federal regulators and we employ the latest technology to ensure data security and your personal identifiable information (“PII”) is secure. MEP regularly goes through a rigorous risk assessment performed by a third-party vendor to ensure MEP is strongly positioned for compliance with financial regulations and cyber security best practices. Additionally, our organization is governed by a Written Information Security Plan (“WISP”) and our practices are frequently reviewed and scrutinized to ensure we are using the best tools to ensure data security.
Q: I heard about Equifax security breach so what should I do?
A: As you may have heard Equifax, one of the four largest credit repositories in the country announced that they have suffered a data breach which allowed cybercriminals to exploit a vulnerability in their website exposing names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and even credit card numbers of some US consumers. Equifax reported this breach on July 29, 2017 but the breach occurred from mid-May through July, 2017. We recommend that you visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com for more information. They have provided a secure link which allows you to check to see if you may have been affected by this breach. They will ask for a portion of your social security number so be sure you are entering their site on a secure network as well. All US consumers will be offered a free credit monitoring service through Equifax regardless of whether you show up on their potential exposure list or not.
Q: There are various tools to use to safeguard my data and I have learned about some on the Equifax site. What do they mean and which is best for me?
A: Options to protect your personal identifiable information (PII) vary and we will discuss some below.
Q: What is a fraud alert?
A: A fraud alert requires that credit bureaus put special notes in your file indicating that you suspect you might be a victim of fraud or identity theft. This requires a creditor to verify your identity before approving credit in your name by making a phone call to the number you leave on file. These fraud alerts expire every 90 days. You can get a fraud alert a no cost. If you notify one credit agency they are required to notify the others on your behalf. You have to remember to extend every 90 days and you must ensure that contact information used to verify your identity does not become compromised.
Q: What is credit monitoring?
A: Credit Monitoring can be free or paid. It can be helpful for people with low credit scores who are working to increase their credit scores. It monitors changes to one or more of your credit reports especially when there are credit inquiries related to applications for new credit card accounts or loans. It can also help to signal when someone else applies for an account in your name. Breached companies often provide credit monitoring as a complimentary service to help customers monitor their credit reports as is the case in the Equifax breach.
Q: What is identity theft protection?
A: Identity Theft Protection provides more than credit monitoring services. Identity Theft Protection can monitor for suspicious activity or fraudulent activity involving your bank accounts, so-called criminal databases, and other places where your social security number is used. Identity Theft Protection services will help you repair the problem should your identity be stolen and they may also alert you if your personal information is spotted on the “dark web.” Companies like LifeLock are in business to provide this service.
Q: What is a credit freeze?
A: A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report. This is perhaps the most stringent safeguard against PII access. The “freeze” locks your credit down so no one can access it; not even you! This makes it more difficult for someone to open a new account in your name. Most creditors (credit card companies, auto and home loan providers) need to see your credit report before they will approve your application for credit; if frozen you will have to un-freeze your report if applying for new credit. You need to know that this also makes it harder for you to access your own credit if you are considering making a purchase for a home, auto or opening a new line of credit. A freeze remains in place until you ask the credit reporting company to temporarily lift it. You can also request that it be lifted for a specific creditor or a specific period, or remove it altogether, but this can take some time.
Q: How do I place a credit freeze?
A: To place a credit freeze you will need to contact the nationwide credit reporting companies directly. The links and contact numbers are provided below. There could be fees associated with the freeze. The cost is between $5-$10 and varies by the state in which you reside.
Q: How do I lift the credit freeze?
In most cases the credit freeze will stay in place until you contact the reporting agency to request a temporary lift or access for a specific credit grantor (or a complete removal of the freeze). You must provide them with the unique PIN number that was either assigned to you or that you created. There could be a cost associated with lifting the freeze like the cost associated with placing it. The companies are required to remove the freeze within 3 business days of your request.
Q: What does Mortgage Equity Partners recommend in the face of the Equifax data breach?
A: Our opinion is that you take advantage of the credit monitoring service offered by Equifax. MEP also recommends a credit freeze for all 4 Credit Repositories. However, the choice is ultimately up to you and how each level of protection fits your lifestyle.
- Link to Equifax- equifax.com | 800-349-9960
- Link to Experian- experian.com | 888-397-3742
- Link to Transunion- transunion.com | 800-909-8872
- Link to Innovis- innovis.com | 800-540-2505
- Link to Chex Systems- www.chexsystems.com
- Federal Trade Commission- consumerftc.gov
- Consumer Finance Protection Bureau “CFPB”- consumerfinance.gov