After the 2017 Equifax data breach, which affected about 148 million Americans, Equifax offered one year of free credit monitoring to all Americans through a service called TrustedID Premier.
That free offer expires on Jan. 31, meaning subscribers who want to continue having fraud protection will need to find a new way to protect themselves.
Amid unclear email messages from Equifax, lack of preparation and the array of offerings between the three major credit bureaus, the end of the program has led to confusion among victims of the breach, according to The New York Times.
Here’s what you should know about the end of Equifax’s free TrustedID Premier program and how you can ensure your credit is protected through the transition.
Additional credit monitoring through Experian
Late last year, Equifax began notifying consumers affected by the breach who signed up for monitoring under TrustedID Premier that they would extend monitoring services for an additional year through credit bureau Experian.
While Equifax offered TrustedID Premier to all consumers, it only “extended the additional credit monitoring service through Experian for those TrustedID Premier subscribers whose information was impacted by the cybersecurity incident,” according to its website.
Subscribers who received an email from Equifax must enroll in Experian’s IDnotify program by Jan. 31 to be eligible.
According to Experian, eligible subscribers who opt in to IDnotify, normally a paid service, will receive credit monitoring services at all three bureaus, a free one-time credit report, access to Experian’s CreditLock feature and identity theft insurance free for one year.
If you’re eligible, this can be a beneficial move to ensure continued protections. But it’s not your only option.
Difference between a credit freeze and a credit lock
One of the services offered to those who subscribed to Equifax’s TrustedID Premier monitoring service was a lock on their Equifax credit file.
According to Equifax, those locks will lift on Jan. 31 for all subscribers, even if you choose to enroll in the IDnotify program through Experian. If your credit is frozen and you were a TrustedID Premier subscriber, however, that freeze will not be affected.
After the free credit monitoring program ends, even if you opt in to Experian’s IDnotify program, a credit lock or freeze can be a great long-term solution to protecting your credit.
What’s the difference?
Both locks and freezes prevent fraudsters from accessing your credit information.
A credit lock restricts access to your credit file but is easy to unlock and re-lock at any time, making it the more convenient process of the two. Locking services are free at TransUnion and Equifax; at Experian, you’ll pay a monthly fee (waived for those breach victims who sign up for the yearlong IDnotify program).
“It’s most appropriate in situations where you are aware that your personal data may have been exposed in some way, and people who were involved in the data breach, that is squarely where they are,” says Bruce McClary, vice president of marketing for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
Both locks and freezes are most effective if enabled at all three bureaus.
“In a lot of ways they are very similar,” McClary says. “But if you’re looking for something that you can set up that gives you the peace of mind you need because your information is already out there and your risk of further exposure continues, then I would say the freeze is the solution that I would recommend over the lock.”
Other ways to protect yourself
Whether you are eligible for the extra free year of credit monitoring offered by Experian or decide a credit freeze is the best option for you, you should continue to remain diligent and ensure your credit isn’t at risk.
Those who enjoyed the protections of TrustedID Premier’s credit monitoring services may want to continue paying for a monitoring service.
If you freeze your credit, though, McClary says this may be redundant. Since the freeze restricts access to your report, preventing new account creation until lifted, you’re only paying for monitoring of the accounts you already have open.
“You can save yourself the money if you already have a freeze in place and just pay close attention to your monthly billing statements from your creditors to be able to detect any unauthorized activity related to the accounts that you already have open,” he says.
You may also enable a fraud alert protection through one of the three major bureaus. Unlike a freeze, you only need to notify one bureau and they will tell the other two about the alert. Fraud alerts are free and last for one year.
In addition to any of these solutions, always review your account statements and credit reports thoroughly and report and suspicious activity.