Breach May Necessitate Freezing Your Credit Reports
By Christine Hall
As we have all been hearing in the news, Equifax, one of the three major U.S. credit monitoring bureaus, was compromised earlier this year. The hackers had access to data from May to July 2017, including names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and credit card numbers. As many as 145.5 million people in the United States were affected, as well as 400,000 in the United Kingdom and 8,000 consumers in Canada.
Credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers and certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers were accessed, according to Equifax.
Many folks are asking what to do if they were impacted by the Equifax data breach. The first thing you should do (if you haven’t already) is to obtain and review your credit report(s) and determine whether there has been any unusual activity.
Next, check whether your data has been hacked using the special website Equifax set up for data breach victims (equifaxsecurity2017.com). You will need to provide your last name and the last six numbers of your Social Security number. From there you can sign up for their free credit monitoring service. You won’t be able to enroll immediately; however, you will be given a date when you can return to the site to enroll. Keep in mind that Equifax will not send you a reminder to enroll so you should mark the date on your calendar so that you can start monitoring your credit as soon as possible.
Equifax removed the arbitration clause from the website that was set up for data breach victims. The arbitration clause stated that by signing up for the free ID theft protection and monitoring from its trusted ID service a consumer could not take legal action against the company – including participating in any class-action lawsuits that might arise from the breach.
Then freeze your credit report accounts at each of the credit bureaus. Freezing your credit reports (make sure to freeze your account at each of the credit bureaus) prevents anyone (including new creditors) from accessing your account. Equifax has waived the fee until Nov. 21) and has agreed to refund fees to those who have paid since Sept. 7, which is the date that the data breach was announced. Keep in mind that you will have to “unfreeze” your credit with each bureau if you are planning on new asset purchases that require bank loans, new credit card applications or anything else that you may be doing that needs a credit check. There may be fees involved to “unfreeze” your credit.
If you do not want to freeze your credit account, you can place a fraud alert on the account. 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.
Get in the habit of periodically checking your bank, credit card, retirement, and other financial accounts that could potentially be impacted now or down the road and make sure your internet security (antivirus, firewall, malware detector, etc.) is working properly.
Finally, filing your taxes earlier, rather than later (i.e., at the last minute) helps prevent a hacker from filing a tax return using your stolen identifying information.
Now is the time to watch out for Equifax-related scams. If you receive a phone call and the person on the other end says, “This is Equifax calling to verify your account information,” hang up immediately. It’s a scam because Equifax will not call you out of the blue.
Stay safe and take steps to protect your data. Even if you were not affected by the Equifax data breach, it is always a good idea to monitor your bank and credit card accounts and immediately contact the bank if you find something amiss.