Equifax Data Breach: How to Find Out If You're Affected and What to Do About It If You Are

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Equifax Data Breach: How to Find Out If You're Affected and What to Do About It If You Are

Last week credit reporting giant Equifax announced some very unsettling news. Equifax fell down on the job. There is no other way to put it.

The credit reporting agency experienced a massive data breach which unfortunately compromised the personal identifying information of approximately 143 million people. For a company which makes billions of dollars collecting, storing, and selling your private information this breakdown in security is not just negligent, it is inexcusable. 

If you understandably missed this disturbing announcement last week amidst all of the news coverage about Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, here is what you need to know right now.

Why This Breach Is a Big Deal

Data breaches have occurred with increasing regularity over the past several years. Insurance providers, hospitals, retail chains, online gaming services, and many other businesses have experienced cyber theft which compromised the personal information of millions. In fact, it almost feels as if you cannot turn on the news or log into your favorite social media newsfeed without hearing about a new breach of security.

The regularity of these data breaches can unfortunately be desensitizing. It can cause you to drop your guard. That, however, could be a dangerous mistake especially if your information has indeed been compromised in the Equifax breach.  

Equifax's breach does not simply involve credit card information which can be easily changed to prevent fraud. Instead, the breach involves exposed information you are not going to be able to change: names, social security numbers, dates of birth, etc. The hacked information could be sat on for years, allowing you to forget about the danger, before any actual fraud or identity theft is even attempted. The stolen information will be just as valuable to thieves in the next week, the next month, the next year, and even potentially the next decade to come. If you were among the 143 million consumers compromised, your exposure to identity theft is now a long term risk.

Action May Be Needed. Panic Is Unnecessary.  

Now that you have digested the bad news, let's talk about what you can do to protect yourself. Panic is not going to solve anything, but a solid plan can go a long way.

1. Find Out If You Are a Victim

Equifax maintains credit files on over 200 million consumers. That means that approximately 29% of you were fortunate enough not to have your personal information compromised. You can find out if you were exposed to the data breach here: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/.

(NOTE: Equifax initially came under fire on social media and from several lawmakers, including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), for including fine print in the terms of service on the above webpage which reportedly may have attempted to dupe consumers into waiving their rights to enter a class action lawsuit or to sue Equifax over the breach. Equifax has since changed their terms of service to remove the offending clause. Really, Equifax?!)

2. One-Call Fraud Alerts

If you visit the website above and discover that your "personal information may have been impacted by this incident" then placing a fraud alert on your credit reports may be a good next step. You can easily place a 90 day fraud alert on all 3 of your credit reports by requesting an alert with Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian. Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), once any of the credit bureaus receives a request for a fraud alert they must communicate that request to the other 2 remaining bureaus on your behalf.

The FCRA also gives you the right to place an extended, 7 year fraud alert on your reports as well. However, you will first need to prove that you have actually been a victim of identity theft (aka someone has opened or tried to open a fraudulent account in your name). Both types of alerts are free under the FCRA.

3. Credit Monitoring

Equifax is offering free credit monitoring (TrustedID) for 1 year to anyone who wants to take advantage of the offer. It is not a bad idea to take advantage of this offer, but it is probably not going to be enough. You need to keep in mind that this is a single-bureau credit monitoring service (Equifax only) and it will do nothing to help you monitor your credit reports on Experian or TransUnion (where you could also experience identity theft as a result of the breach).

If you want to truly keep an eye for fraud on your credit reports then you will need to monitor all 3 credit bureaus and you will probably have to pay a fee to do so. There are a lot of good services out there which offer 3-bureau and even 3-score monitoring. Some are more expensive than others. If you are looking for some comparisons of available services, visit http://www.greatcredit101.com/credit-reports-and-monitoring/.

It has always been important to routinely check, monitor, and review your credit reports for fraud and errors. If your information has been exposed in the Equifax data breach, that importance has simply become magnified for you more than ever before.

4. Credit Freeze

Fraud alerts can potentially help to prevent identity theft and credit monitoring can help you to quickly discover fraud when it occurs. However, if you want a tool which can help to prevent fraudulent accounts from being opened in the first place then a credit freeze is the biggest gun you can use to defend yourself.

When you place a credit freeze your credit report is taken out of circulation. This means that no future lender will be able to access your reports. If a scammer tries to use your information to open a fraudulent account then the freeze will stop a lender from pulling your credit and, viola, any future loan applications will most likely be denied as a result. Almost no lender is going to approve a new application if they cannot pull your credit.

It is worth pointing out that it is not free to place a credit freeze unless you have actually already been a victim of fraud. However, credit freezes are relatively inexpensive (under $10 per credit bureau at the time of publication). Unlike fraud alerts, you must place an individual freeze at Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.

Additionally, the credit bureaus also offer a service known as a "credit lock." Equifax has even announced that it will be giving away credit locks for free to victims of the breach. While credit locks are advertised by the credit bureaus as more convenient than freezes,  it is unclear whether or not they offer the same protections. Credit freezes are generally covered by state law, potentially giving you more protection in the event that there is a problem.

5. Keep It In Perspective

The truth is that identity theft is a growing crime. Over $16 billion dollars was stolen by fraudsters and approximately 15.4 US consumers were affected by identity theft in 2016 alone. Even before this Equifax data breach, your personal information may have been vulnerable to thieves in one way or another.

It has always been and will continue to be your personal responsibility to check your credit reports regularly in order to verify that they contain only accurate information about accounts you really applied for and opened yourself. (Remember, you can check your 3 credit reports every 12 months for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.) If you ever discover fraudulent accounts on your credit reports the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you a long list of rights with a lot of teeth to help you recover from the identity theft.

If you want some tips on how to recover from identity theft, CLICK HERE. You have the right to try to correct identity theft issues on your own, but you can also hire a professional credit expert to work on your behalf if you are too busy or feel too overwhelmed by the process.









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Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with a decade and a half of experience, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, and a regularly featured speaker at seminars across the country. She is an expert on improving credit scores, budgeting, and identity theft. You can connect with Michelle on the HOPE4USA Facebook page by clicking here.


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Credit Scams You Should Avoid

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Credit Scams You Should Avoid

Poor credit can lead to a lot of painful and embarrassing moments. If you are currently struggling with credit problems then you already know just how miserable bad credit can be. Credit problems can make it difficult to secure a place to live, to finance a vehicle, to qualify for a credit card or loan, and even to do something as simple as opening a new utility account without a sizable deposit.

Unfortunately, scammers are very aware that bad credit makes life hard too. They know that many consumers are absolutely desperate to change their credit situations and they eagerly try to prey upon this desperation. Thankfully, you can help to protect yourself from these con artists by learning a little more about some of the most common credit scams you need to avoid.

The New Credit Identity Scam

One of the most popular credit scams involves the practice of paying someone to create a "new" credit identity for you. On the surface, it is understandable why the idea of a fresh start might sound attractive to you. Unfortunately, what a scammer will not tell you is that by using a "new" identity you could actually be guilty of committing a number of different crimes.

The new credit identity scam, also known as file segregation, typically involves a few steps. First a fraudulent company, likely pretending to be a credit repair outfit, will offer to sell you a new credit identity number (typically an EIN number or a CPN number) which you can use in place of your social security number on future credit applications. By using this alternative number you will be creating a separate or segregated credit file with each of the credit bureaus which will supposedly replace your old, damaged credit files. Yet not only is this file segregation scheme typically illegal, it can also be expensive and ineffective.

Fees for new credit identity services often run into the thousands of dollars, although the scammer will probably try to argue that the fee is a small price to pay for an instant fix to all of your credit woes. Be careful not to be fooled by such tactics.

Additionally, when you use an EIN or CPN number in place of your social security number on a credit application you are likely guilty of bank fraud. If you submitted a fraudulent application over the phone, online, or via mail then you might be guilty of wire fraud or mail fraud as well. Furthermore, that EIN or CPN number you thought you were purchasing could actually be a real social security number which has been stolen from someone else. (Are you really surprised that your friendly neighborhood scammer might be an identity thief as well?) If you use someone else's social security number on a credit application then you might just be guilty of committing identity theft yourself.

The Tradeline Rental Scam

Piggybacking is a term which refers to the process of being added to someone else's existing credit card account as an authorized user. Becoming an authorized user on someone else's credit card account can sometimes be a wise part of your overall credit improvement strategy. If you are added onto an older, well managed credit card account it certainly has the potential to help improve your credit scores when (and if) that positive account shows up on your credit reports. However, the authorized user strategy is only really safe and effective when done with someone whom you know personally.

Tradeline renting describes the process of paying to piggyback on a stranger's credit card account in an attempt to trick the credit scoring system. Typically you pay a middle man (most likely a sizable fee) who will then act as an agent to connect you with someone who is willing to add you onto their account as an authorized user. The bad news if you fall for the tradeline renting scam is that you could be guilty of bank fraud and a number of other associated crimes as well. To add insult to injury, newer versions of FICO's credit scoring models have been designed with logic that helps to detect fraudulent tradeline renting. So, not only can tradeline renting be expensive and illegal, there is a chance that it might not even work. 

Legitimate Credit Help

Although you should be careful not to fall for credit scams, the good news is that there are legitimate credit repair professionals who may be able to help you with your credit problems. Remember, a trustworthy credit repair company will never ask you to change your identity, rent a tradeline from a stranger, or to pay upfront fees for services.

CLICK HERE or call 704-499-9696 to schedule a no-obligation credit analysis with a HOPE4USA credit expert today.






michelle-black-credit-expert

Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with a decade and a half of experience, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, and a regularly featured speaker at seminars across the country. She is an expert on improving credit scores, budgeting, and identity theft. You can connect with Michelle on the HOPE4USA Facebook page by clicking here.


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Who Is Allowed to Check Your Credit Reports?

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Who Is Allowed to Check Your Credit Reports?

Accessing your credit information is easier now than it has been at any other point in history. Thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you even have the right to view a free copy of all 3 of your credit reports every 12 months. To claim your free reports from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian simply visit AnnualCreditReport.com. Depending upon your state of residence you may have access to additional free copies of your 3 credit reports each year as well.

Even after you have exhausted your free annual credit reports, there is no shortage of websites online which will grant you access to your credit reports and possibly your scores either for free or for a fee. This easy access to your credit information is certainly a good thing for consumers. However, the ease of access might also have you concerned about who else can put their hands on a copy of your credit reports.

The good news is that the credit reporting agencies (CRAs) are not simply allowed to release your credit information to anyone who asks for it. Instead, the FCRA lays out some very specific rules regarding to whom the CRAs may disclose your credit information. In order to access your credit report a company must have what is legally referred to as Permissible Purpose. Read below for a list of some of the most common reasons your credit reports may legally be accessed.

Court Order

Per the FCRA if a judge orders the CRAs to disclose your credit reports, legally they are bound to hand them over.  

Request from You, the Consumer

You also have the right to access you own credit reports as often as you like. As already mentioned, you even have the right to a free copy of your 3 reports annually. Beyond that you can still request unlimited additional copies of your credit reports, though you might be charged for the privilege of doing so.

Credit Transactions

You probably already know that when you apply for a loan or credit card the bank or card issuer is going to check your credit as part of the application process. In general this is 100% legal under the FCRA.

Employment Screening

Current and prospective employers also have permissible purpose to pull your credit reports. However, your written permission is required first. There is also a common myth that employers may access your credit scores as well, but the truth is that employers may have access to your credit reports only.

Insurance Underwriting

Insurance companies often rely upon your credit information in order to determine the risk of doing business with you and, if they choose to take you on as a customer, how much to charge. According to the FCRA this is typically permitted.

Account Review

Under the FCRA your existing creditors are permitted to obtain your credit reports as well. Current creditors may pull your reports and scores to determine whether your risk level has changed and if they wish to continue doing business with you.

Child Support

Per the FCRA your credit reports can legally be used to determine how much you can afford to pay in child support.

Collection Purposes

Like it or not, collection agencies are often able to pull your credit reports according to the FCRA and, unfortunately for the consumer, they do not need your permission to do so. As long as the collection agency follows the rules, these reports may be used for skip tracing purposes (aka finding you) and for determining your capacity to pay your debts.

Prescreened Credit Card Offers

Have you ever received a "preapproved" offer in the mail? If so, the CRAs likely sold your information as part of a large mailing list to a credit card issuer. Your full credit report was not given to the card issuer, but due to a specific set of search criteria the card issuer probably has a very good idea of the information contained in your report. Although you did not specifically authorize the access or even apply for a loan, this disclosure of your credit information is still allowed under the FCRA. If you want to stop the CRAs from selling your credit information for prospecting purposes then you will have to visit OptOutPrescreen.com to officially make the request.

Unauthorized Credit Report Access

You should already be keeping an eye on your credit reports often to make sure that the information contained there remains accurate. However, you may not have realized that you should be keeping an eye on your credit report inquiries (records which pertain to when your reports were accessed) as well.

Many credit report inquiries (aka pulls) have the potential to lower your credit scores. Plus, if you discover unauthorized or suspicious inquiries it could even be a sign of identity theft. The FCRA gives you the right to dispute any such inquiries - either on your own or with the help of a reputable credit repair professional.

CLICK HERE or call 704-499-9696 to schedule a no-obligation credit analysis with a HOPE4USA credit expert today. 

 







credit-expert-michelle-black

Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with a decade and a half of experience, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, and a regularly featured speaker at seminars across the country. She is an expert on improving credit scores, budgeting, and identity theft. You can connect with Michelle on the HOPE4USA Facebook page by clicking here.