How Could the Equifax Hack Affect Your Rental Application?

As you may have heard, Equifax, one of the big three credit bureaus, was hacked sometime between May and July and announced the massive security breach to the public on9/7/17. Since Equifax stated nearly 143 million Americans were potentially exposed, chances are you could be at risk. Now, you might think you have no idea who Equifax is, and you don’t remember providing your information so you will be fine, but if you have ever had your credit score checked to buy a car or rent an apartment, chances are that your personal information is out there and could be in someone else’s hands.

Now let’s follow that train of thought a little further. Credit scores are affected by your spending habits and how you pay off your credit card and bills. If someone has and abuses your credit card/Social Security Number/or other sensitive information and racks up bills that are not paid, it can severely damage your score. It should come as no surprise that people who commit identity theft don’t intend to pay for their purchases themselves. Once your identity has been stolen, it is often a complicated process to get back to normal, and you are often left with poor credit through no fault of your own. As in many markets, rental applications in New York require credit checks, and if you were one of the victims of this security breach, you could be putting your rental application in jeopardy. Not a comforting thought, is it?  

The good news is there a few steps you can take to help protect yourself and your information before applying.

Check if your information has been compromised. Keep in mind that everyone should be checking this because Equifax held information from many types of transactions. The easiest way to check if your information was comprised is by going to Equifax’s “Potential Impact” page to generate a damage report. You will need to enter your name and the last six digits of your Social Security Number.

Monitor your accounts. You can check your credit score for free online on websites such as Credit Karma.

Also, a wise habit is to periodically check recent charges to your credit card to be sure that you recognize each charge. This is made easy with online banking and mobile apps. Don’t forget to periodically check other accounts you may have, including savings, retirement, and brokerage accounts. If you notice an unusual charge, contact your bank immediately. If you suspect that you have been a victim of identity theft (loans being taken out in your name, new purchases, or your taxes are filed before you actually filed them), contact the authorities and IRS right away, as this is a federal offense.  

Protect yourself. After running the report on Equifax, you will be provided with the option to enroll in the protection service, “TrustedID Premier.” This protection will cover one year; you must opt out at the end of the year, or you will be automatically enrolled in another year (which you will be charged for at that point). This enrollment period is open until November 21, 2017. At all times, be sure that you can verify the authenticity of sources that request personal information such as your Social Security number. Periodically change your passwords and PIN numbers and never use the same login username and password on multiple sites, as this gives the potential hacker, even more, control over your personal property.

Permanent prevention. If you believe that your identity has been compromised, it may be worthwhile to pay for a professional credit monitoring service. You can also freeze your credit, but doing so will delay any transaction in which you need to produce a credit report, such as completing a rental application. Fees will also apply to freezing your credit. Finally, you can set alerts to notify you anytime a purchase is attempted using your credit card. You will be asked to double-verify every purchase before it can be completed.

When you are ready to fill out your rental application, be prepared with the necessary information such as your full name, contact information, and social security information. You may also need to provide other government identifiers (such as a driver’s license) and previous addresses. Proof of employment, background checks, and credit history may also be requested. Finally, some landlords ask for references and rental history information. Anything you can provide that verifies your responsibility will be helpful in securing your new rental property. Finding the right property is challenging, but if you are prepared despite this security breach, it shouldn’t stop you from renting a property that is right for you.

We know that there are lots of other challenges facing New York renters and Property Advisors is here to help. Explore our website to get started!

To read the specific details of the security breach, visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com .

Owen M. McCafferty II