By now you have learned the disturbing news involving the now widely reported Equifax data breach affecting over 143,000,000 consumers. To put the massive size of this breach in perspective, there are about 326,000,000 people in the United States. While the credit reporting agency announced the breach on September 10th, the breach actually occurred July 29, which means sensitive data from about half of the U.S. population has been available to hackers for almost two months before it was made known to the public.
What makes this data breach so alarming is that Equifax is one the of the three major credit reporting bureaus in the U.S. Because of the “quality” of personal data that has been accessed and stolen, this breach is huge. It is much worse than other high-profile data breaches, including the 2015 Anthem data breach.
Equifax is facing nearly two dozen class-action lawsuits, along with a separate suit from the state of Massachusetts, over a massive data breach that compromised the personal information — names, addresses, birth dates and social security numbers — of more than 143 million people.
A small consolation in all of this is that thieves did not access Equifax’s database where your credit score and credit history are maintained.
How can I find out if I was affected?
- Internet – Equifax has set up a link for consumers to determine if you are a victim. We recommend that you check to see whether your information has been compromised. To determine this, click on the link: www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/. Once here, you will need to enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. You will be immediately advised whether or not your information was stolen.
- Phone – If you do not have a computer, you can call Equifax at 866-447-7559.
Here are some other steps to take to help protect yourself after a data breach:
- Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
- Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. To freeze one’s credit, you need to contact each of the three credit reporting bureaus. A freeze will last until you remove it. If you need to “thaw” your credit in order to give someone access to it, remember that there is a nominal fee to thaw the account, and then a nominal fee to re-freeze it for each credit reporting bureau.
Equifax is the only credit agency that you can initiate a credit freeze by telephone.
For TransUnion and Experian, you can initiate a credit freeze via an online application:
Experian – https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
- Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
- If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
- File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
Visit Identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach.
Equifax is Offering One Year of Free Credit Monitoring
First, Equifax is offering one year of free credit monitoring. You can enroll in this program, called TrustedID Premier, at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/enroll/. TrustedID Premier includes three-bureau credit monitoring–not just credit monitoring for Equifax. If you choose to enroll, you must return to this site after the date you are provided in order to finalize your registration and activate the monitoring. At that time, you will need to provide an email address. After the free one-year offer, the future cost of credit monitoring as it now stands will be your financial responsibility.
If you sign up for the credit monitoring offer, you are not waiving your right to participate in any litigation against Equifax at a later date (such as an affected member of a class-action suit).
Even if your information has not been compromised in this breach, you can still sign up for the one year of free credit monitoring. This offer ends November 21, 2017.
Where else can I go for help?
- You can pay for resolution services, which means you provide a firm with power of attorney to handle the dispute and legal response in the case of a hack.
- Use government resources like Identifytheft.gov. Here, you’ll begin resolution services, going through the multi-step process to resolve financial damages stemming from a hack.