• Find out if your clients were impacted by the hack, have them sign up for TrustedID, discuss a credit freeze and think long term.

If your clients are trying to get a mortgage, there may only be one thing worse than being one of the 143 million Americans whose most confidential financial information was stolen by the hackers who broke into the Equifax credit bureau: trying to get a mortgage if you are one of the victims.

On Sept. 7, Equifax, one of three national credit bureaus responsible for gathering and distributing information that affects individuals’ credit histories and credit scores, announced that over a period of several months, hackers had broken into its databanks and stolen the names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers for 143 million people.

Consider the potential impact on thousands of homebuyers.

Your client’s application for a pre-qualification or a mortgage application is under review, and someone from a country you have never heard of buys enough stuff on a fraudulent card obtained from data stolen from Equifax to send your client’s credit rating into orbit.

Unless they know the charges are fraudulent, Equifax or one of the other two credit bureaus may report the bad news to your clients’ lender, who cranks up the interest rate or turns down the application altogether. Your clients lose a home, and you may lose a deal.

Banks and credit card companies have great security, but it can take weeks to resolve a mess caused by stolen data and repairing the customer’s credit is low on the priority list.

Here’s how to prevent that from happening:

  • You can go to Equifax’s security site and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number to find out if you are one of the 143 million unfortunates whose data was stolen. Have your clients do this first thing.
  • If your clients have been hacked, have them click through and fill out the online form for TrustedID, a free service that Equifax is providing to consumers who are at risk as a result of the hack. TrustedID provides monitoring of all three credit bureaus; automated alerts of key changes to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit files; Equifax Credit Report Lock (which you can use to prevent access to your Equifax credit report by third parties); Social Security number scanning; searches of suspicious websites to find Social Security numbers; an Equifax Credit Report and $1 million in Identity Theft Insurance.
  • To freeze or not to freeze? Freezing access to your clients’ credit file will prevent debt from a fraudulent purchase from ruining their credit. It will also prevent your clients’ lender from checking their credit to approve their mortgage. They can ask for exceptions or remove the lock to give their lender a day or two to check their file. They should closely monitor their credit every day.
  • Whether your client chooses to freeze or not, get them plugged into several good credit monitoring services (most are free or have a nominal cost). All three credit bureaus offer them, as well as Credit Karma, Mint, WalletHub and other personal finance sites.

Of course, your clients can be victimized by fraudulent use of their identity long after they close on their home. They may want to retain one of the more reputable services that protect and insure against identity theft.

Also check out Equifax’s announcements about the hack.

Steve Cook is a communications consultant specializing in residential real estate and housing finance. Contact him at Comnsconsuling.com or LinkedIn.

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