How Equifax Just Changed the Rest of Your Life

Adding freezes to your credit reports is an appropriate response to the massive Equifax database breach that exposed the private information of 143 million Americans.

Don't make the mistake of thinking those freezes will keep you safe, however.

Credit freezes lock down your credit reports in a way that should prevent "new account fraud," or bogus accounts being opened in your name. But there are so many other ways the bad guys can use the information they stole, which included Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses and some driver's license numbers. Others include:

--Stealing your tax refund and preventing you from filing returns by submitting fake ones

--Using your information to get health care, which can result not only in medical collections on your credit reports but a stranger's health information getting mixed in with your records

--Giving your identification to the police when they get arrested, creating criminal records that could land you in jail or prevent you from getting a job

--Filing for bankruptcy in your name or transferring deeds of property you own

You can't prevent any of these bad things from happening. The best you can do is remain as vigilant as you can and try to clear up the messes as they happen.

If you feel helpless, there's a good reason for that: You are.

Theft and Ruin, Done in Your Name

"Equifax just signed you up for a lifetime game of Whack-A-Mole," says Leslie Beck, a certified financial planner in Rutherford, New Jersey.

Beck's husband, Mark, is an investment consultant who's been the repeated victim of identity theft after his wallet was stolen in 1999. Shutting down bogus credit accounts -- freezes weren't available back then -- was just the start. One thief used Mark Beck's name to commit insurance fraud by staging phony car accidents. Another was arrested for public urination, creating an outstanding warrant...

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