Thursday, March 30, 2023
March 30, 2023

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Singletary: Data breach fears inspire more of us to freeze credit


The epic Equifax data breach could make for some creative Halloween costumes. If there’s a contest, I bet you’ll win if you dress up like a horrifying hacker holding stolen credit reports.

Editorial cartoonists have certainly captured the rampant sense of dread and fear. Signe Wilkinson’s depiction of the compromise of 145.5 million consumer files by Equifax reflects the attitude of many folks I’ve been hearing from. The cartoon portrays two people buying coffee. The first customer is paying with plastic and says, “I’m afraid my credit card will be hacked!” The other says, “I’m not.”

Why isn’t the second customer worried?

She’s buying her coffee with cash.

A cartoon from Nick Anderson speaks volumes. In it, an elderly couple is in the office of an Equifax executive whom they tell, “We’re dropping your creditability rating to zero.”

The hole Equifax left in its computer system exposed Social Security, credit card and driver’s license numbers. Hackers also got addresses and birth dates.

Here are some recent questions I received. I relayed the first two to an Equifax spokesperson.

Did the hackers in the Equifax breach gain access to my credit- freeze PIN number?

Equifax: The PINs associated with security freezes were not impacted by the breach.

My son lives in Spain with his wife and baby. I asked him to go to the Equifax website to see whether their information had been hacked. He said the site was blocked to people overseas. Is this the case?

Equifax: No, the site is not blocked to people overseas. However, there are some situations where an IP address may be restricted due to where the person lives.

I took advantage of the Equifax-offered credit lock. However, from my research, it appears that I would also need to lock my credit with Experian and TransUnion, and it does not seem that Equifax covers me for those costs (Experian is $25 a month). Do you have any suggestions or know how others are dealing with this?

Michelle: Right now, Equifax is waiving the fee to get a freeze, but it only covers your file at that bureau. You can also get a free lock on your credit file at Equifax.

But one freeze or credit lock does not work for all. You have to get a freeze or lock at each credit bureau.

To get access to the free freeze at Equifax, go to Be sure to elect for a freeze, not a lock. You can’t do both.

Consumer experts advise opting for a freeze because the rules for it are state-regulated. A lock is a feature offered by the credit bureaus that essentially does the same thing as a freeze, but the rules are dictated by the credit bureau.

You can freeze your Experian report at Do the same with TransUnion at

You might also consider a freeze at the consumer agency ChexSystems: This is the bureau that financial institutions use to verify you have a good history of managing bank or credit-union accounts.

I have had a freeze on my wife and myself for many years with the three major credit bureaus. Should I still sign up for Equifax’s free TrustedID Premier monitoring service?

Michelle: This question brings up why a freeze is better than credit monitoring.

With a credit freeze, a new creditor can’t get access to your credit file. Without being able to view your credit report, the lender isn’t likely to approve your credit application.

A credit monitoring service reports identity-theft incidents to you after the fact. In other words, the damage could already be done.

Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas. Reach her in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20071; or