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The ongoing Equifax hack disaster will haunt victims for a long time and may even affect your career.
Identity thieves could use stolen information to open fraudulent accounts in your name or take other actions that would put black marks on your credit record, which may cost you when you apply for a job.
Almost half of employers check the credit histories of at least some job candidates, according to the most recent survey on that topic from the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM. Since 145.5 million Americans had their sensitive personal information compromised in the Equifax data breach, it’s something you may want to think about the next time you’re job-hunting.
Here’s a look at the risk — and remedies.
Why an employer may check your credit
The top reason companies conduct credit background checks is to prevent fraud or embezzlement, SHRM found. A prospective employer wants to know it can trust you with the company’s money, so it’s eager to see how handle your own credit cards and other financial matters.
But there are some problems with this strategy, especially if a job candidate’s identity has been stolen — which is increasingly common. More than 15 million Americans fell victim to identity theft in 2016, the highest level ever seen in an annual study from Javelin Strategy and Research and up 16 percent from the year before.
That’s one reason why a number of cities and states have limited the ability of employers to look at your credit.
It’s easier to explain than to say no
You don’t have to allow a hiring manager to review your credit reports, but the company also has a right not to allow you to work there. Not an ideal trade-off.
If an employer does spot credit issues that were the result of fraud, explain the situation. Given the rash of identity theft, you may find a sympathetic ear.
“My research shows that employers lack hard evidence about how credit data relate to workplace behavior, and so to draw conclusions from delinquent debt, they often try to figure out what has happened in a job candidate’s life and whether those events justify bad credit,” says Harvard University doctoral candidate Barbara Kiviat, writing in The Atlantic.
Know what’s in your credit reports
But before you start searching for a new job, you’d better know what your credit reports say.
You’re entitled, by law, to a free credit report from each of the three rating agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — every 12 months.
If you spot a mistake, write the credit agency a letter detailing the problem. (The Federal Trade Commission offers a sample letter that might be helpful.) The credit bureau is required to look into the issue, generally within 30 days.
Other protective measures
Don’t stop there. If you believe your personal data may have been exposed to the Equifax hackers, consider paying for a credit freeze with each of the three agencies – the costs range from $5 to $10. (Though Equifax is temporarily waiving its fee.)
This will stop thieves from being able to open a new account in your name.
However, it also will block an employer from taking a look at your credit reports. You’ll have to kick in another fee when you want to thaw your credit to provide access to a company where you’ve applied.
This is a brave new world, and you need to protect yourself. You career may be at stake.