AUGUSTA — In the wake of the Equifax hack, here are the top five things William Lund, superintendent of the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, recommends:
1. Immediately freeze your credit and don’t lose those pin numbers. Consumers should freeze their credit with each of the three credit agencies: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. This can be done over the phone, in writing or online. The numbers are secure, the bureau reports.
There’s no fee for Maine residents to freeze or unfreeze their credit.
When freezing credit, consumers will receive a different pin number from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Don’t lose that pin number, Lund said, otherwise it will be difficult to unlock your credit. Using the pin numbers, consumers can unlock their credit when applying for credit.
The three agencies:
Equifax, P.O. Box 105069, Atlanta, GA, 30348; or 1-800-349-9960; online: www.freeze.equifax.com
Experian, P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX, 75013; or 1-888-397-3742; online www.experian.com/freeze
TransUnion: P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA, 19016; or 1-888-909-8872; or www.transunion.com/freeze
TransUnion is offering a “lock” as an alternative to a “freeze.” The lock is free, he said, “but you have to agree to the mandatory arbitration clause/class action waiver, which is not part of the state-required freeze.” Also, consumers have to agree to be subject to offers for premium services, which are not free. His concern is that Maine consumers trying to get the freeze they’re entitled to under Maine law could end up with something else, the lock versus the freeze.
2. Don’t panic. If you can’t get through to each of the three credit reporting agencies, keep trying. They’re overwhelmed, Lund said. Remember, there are laws on the books to protect you from identify theft, Lund said. As long as you monitor your information and accounts, and let your credit company know immediately when you’re a victim of fraud or identify theft, the Truth in Lending Act limits a consumer’s liability to $50 per card.
3. Monitor your credit to ensure your credit information is correct and there are no incorrect charges or information on your report, go to annualcreditreport.com. The report is free. There is a fee to get your credit score, unless it’s provided by your credit card or lender.
4. IRS tax fraud: Learn more to understand how you can be at risk by someone claiming a tax refund with the IRS in your name. The IRS does not verify tax refund claims until months after it sends a refund. Every year there are tens of millions of dollars the IRS pays in fraudulent claims. “If the IRS sends the refund to the wrong person, eventually the IRS will pay, but it won’t be right away,” Lund cautions. It will be a hassle. “You’ll have to prove you are who you say you are.”
5. Pay attention to collection activities. If you receive a bill or charge you don’t recognize or get a collection call about an account that’s not yours, it could be a scam, or it could be a signal that you should check your credit report.
Consumers with questions or can call the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection at 1-800-332-8529.