I set up a credit-fraud alert, and it was easy

credit cards hooked in database breachIn the wake of Equifax's massive database breach, today I took steps to protect my credit and my identity. It cost me nothing, and a helpful advocate walked me through it.

You see, I'm not only a PEMCO employee, I'm also a PEMCO policyholder. And that automatically gives me its ID Smart service. It's a value-added anxiety-buster for all PEMCO customers. (In other words, free.)

I visited the website that Equifax provides to see if I was affected by the breach. Even though it appears my wife and I dodged the bullet, you never can be sure. And I'm also not willing to entirely trust the word of the firm that just exposed 146 million people to potential harm.

So I decided to follow the lead of friends and family who froze their credit, to prevent crooks from opening bogus accounts with stolen identification. My colleague Jessica reminded me that the folks at CyberScout, our PEMCO ID Smart partner, can advise me how to go about doing that.

I called PEMCO's main number, and a representative stayed on the line while transferring me to CyberScout. A helpful woman named Michelle took the call and asked for my PEMCO policy number. I explained why I was calling.

Michelle said she could help me freeze my credit. But she also offered an alternative.

"You might not foresee the need to open any type of credit in the near future," she said. "But for example, some people might unexpectedly need to buy a car."

I thought of my 17-year-old Chevy Silverado. It's the most-dependable vehicle I've ever owned, but with so many miles under its tires, it conceivably could break down at any time.

Customer phone rep helps customer fight identity fraudMichelle suggested I consider setting up fraud alerts instead. Unlike a credit freeze, which can cost me money to establish and lift – even if it's lifted temporarily – a fraud alert is free. For three months, the three big credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) will monitor my credit and notify me if there's any activity. I can renew for another three months thereafter and keep doing so, at no cost.

(I later learned that consumers can lock their Equifax credit file for free for one year if you enroll through January 2018.)

But renewing is not automatic. I must remember to initiate it each time, or it will expire automatically.

I opted for free fraud alerts. Michelle transferred me to a helpful man at TransUnion who asked for basic information – my Social Security number, address, and phone number. He told me my credit has been clear for the past three months, and that he would establish my alert and share my info with the other two credit bureaus, Equifax and Experion. He gave me a file number, promised to mail me a confirmation letter, and that was it.

He then allowed me to do the same for my wife and took her information.

He and I said goodbye. Michelle had remained on the line the entire time to ensure everything went smoothly and said she'll phone me in 10 days to confirm I got the TransUnion letter.

The process was painless. I gained peace of mind, paid no fees, and came away with a greater appreciation for how PEMCO ID Smart can help our customers.

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