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


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:

(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 3-bureau credit monitoring service but you will only have access to your Equifax credit report. Additionally, the service is only free for 1 year and you will need to monitor your reports for much longer than that (forever essentially) if you were a victim.

If you want to truly keep an eye for fraud on your credit reports then a 3-bureau monitoring service with access to all 3 of your credit reports is probably best. However, you will probably have to pay a fee for such a service. There are a lot of good services out there which offer 3-bureau and 3-score monitoring with 3-report access. Some are more expensive than others. If you are looking for some comparisons of available services, visit

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 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.


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.


Can Collection Accounts Really be Removed from My Credit Reports?


Can Collection Accounts Really be Removed from My Credit Reports?

In my previous article, Will Paying Collections Help My Credit Scores?, I discussed the common misconception that paying a collection account will raise your credit scores. It is true that paying a collection account probably will not raise your credit scores and, in some cases, may even lower your scores if recent activity is reported on the account due to your payment. However, there is another credit myth which I would like to debunk today and that is the misconception that a collection account cannot be legally removed from your credit report. The statement that a collection account cannot legally be removed from your credit report is simply untrue. When a collection account is deleted from your credit report the result is almost always a credit score increase - great news for the consumer! There are several possible ways that collection accounts can be deleted from your credit report. Let's discuss a few of them:

Removal by Dispute - 

Have you checked your credit report lately? Chances are that, if you did so, you found errors and inaccuracies. In fact, a recent study released by the Federal Trade Commission found that 40 million Americans had errors on their credit reports. 

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) you have the right to dispute any errors, mistakes, or inaccuracies with the credit reporting agencies - Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian. If any of the data is incorrect on an account (i.e. the balance, the date of first delinquency, the date of last activity, the date opened, the date of default, the date reported, account notations, etc.) then you have the right to dispute it. Furthermore, you are even allowed to dispute erroneous accounts with creditors and collection agencies directly.

Pay for Deletion -

It is possible for you to make an arrangement with a creditor or collection agency to pay an account in exchange for the deletion of the account from your credit report. You should know that it is extremely difficult to get a creditor or collection agency to agree to these terms. Some companies will reject a pay for deletion offer out right. However, payment for deletion is possible and it is 100% legal.

There is nothing in the Fair Credit Reporting Act which compels a creditor or collection agency to report an account to the credit bureaus. The reporting of accounts is 100% voluntary. Even though it is not illegal for an account to be paid for deletion, the act is frowned upon by the credit bureaus and most of the agreements that the bureaus have with collection agencies states that the collection agencies cannot engage in pay for deletion settlements.

Finally, if you do get a creditor or collection agency to agree to a pay for deletion arrangement you will likely be required to pay 100% of the debt. As with any debt negotiation, it is always important to get agreements sent to you in writing since "he said, she said" will not hold up if a dispute arises later.

Goodwill Deletion - 

You can request for a creditor or collection agency to grant you a goodwill deletion after an account has been paid. It is a long shot to have a goodwill deletion request honored; however, it certainly cannot hurt you to ask.

These are a few of the ways that a collection account can be removed from your credit reports. You have the right to try to employ some of these strategies on your own, though doing so will likely be time consuming and very difficult. You also have the right to hire a reputable credit restoration company to assist you. If you would like to speak with a HOPE Credit Expert regarding your credit report please give us a call at 704-499-9696 or click here to schedule a no-obligation credit analysis today.


Michelle Black is an author and a credit expert with over a decade of experience, the credit blogger at, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, a contributor to the Wealth Section of Fort Mill Magazine, and  a regularly featured speaker at seminars up and down the East Coast. She is an expert on improving credit scores, credit reporting, correcting credit errors, budgeting, and recovering from identity theft. You can connect with Michelle on the HOPE Facebook page by clicking here. 



60 Minutes Exposes the Credit Bureaus

On Sunday, February 10, 2013, 60 Minutes exposed their shocking investigation of the nation's 3 major credit bureaus: Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian.
If you have not seen the report yet, click here. Every American should see this report:

If you are a victim of the credit bureaus, like 40 million other Americans, you have rights! You have the right to dispute errors and inaccuracies on your credit report; however, you do not have to face this challenge alone. Call 704.499.9696 today and a HOPE credit expert will be happy to explain your rights and to answer your questions.



5 Ways to Give Your Credit a Kick in the Pants!

5 Ways to Give Your Credit a Kick in the Pants!By Michelle Black

Earlier this week we discussed The 5 Fastest Ways to Damage Your Credit.  If you have not reviewed this list yet, please take a moment to check out the article.  It may save you from making a detrimental mistake which could set your credit score back as much as 100 points!

However, today we will be focusing on a subject that is always much more enjoyable: Ways to improve your credit.  Since the 3 credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) all have a different system they use to determine your credit score, it is impossible to predict specifically how much any one action will change your credit score.  Still, we do know that if you heed the following advice, your credit scores cannot help but to improve with all 3 of the credit bureaus (as long as no new negative actions on your credit counteract the new positive changes):

1.  Make payments on time. I always like to start with this recommendation because payment history is the single most important factor making up all 3 of your credit scores.  A whopping 35% of your credit score is determined by your ability to make your payments on time.  Even if you have had some recent late payments (within the past 24 months) that have damaged your credit score, if you make a plan today to start paying your current bills on time you will start to slowly dig yourself out of the hole. Plus, if you want to dig yourself out of the proverbial credit hole even faster you can check out some of the great services that HOPE has to offer. 2.  Have enough open credit cards. It is important to have open revolving accounts (AKA credit cards) on your credit report.  Your credit score is a snapshot to potential lenders of how you pay your bills.  Therefore,  if you do not have enough open accounts, you may have low scores or even no scores at all. HOPE members, please check with your HOPE credit specialist to see if it is recommended for you to open additional credit card accounts or if you already have enough active accounts appearing on your credit report. 3.  Pay down open credit cards. Yes, it is definitely recommended that you establish some current credit card accounts if you do not currently have enough open.  However, it is not recommended that you establish any new debt by charging up the balances on your credit cards.  If you do have balances on any of your current credit cards, especially if the balance is over 50% of your credit limit, aim to pay off your credit cards ASAP.  You could potentially see a huge increase in your credit scores by following this advice.  (Note: current HOPE members can contact us to request a HOPE Snowball Debt Payoff Worksheet for help making a plan to pay off your current debts.) 4.  Check your credit report for mistakes/erroneous information. All 3 credit bureaus are quite notorious for making mistakes on our credit report.  Even if your credit report is in pristine condition, it is important to check your credit report 1-2 times every single year to make sure that there are no new errors being reported.  The good news is that you are legally entitled to a free credit report (minus your credit scores) every year from  Make sure to check your report with all 3 credit bureaus. 5.  Use old credit cards occasionally. Your length of credit history makes up approximately 15% of your credit score.  This means that those older credit card accounts on your report actually help to boost your credit scores more than new accounts.  Often a creditor will automatically close a credit card account if you do not use it for a prolonged period of time due to inactivity on the account.  Solution?  Use your old credit cards several times per year for a small purchase (which you pay off immediately) in order to keep your older accounts open and active.

Don't forget, if you or someone you know is in need of professional credit advice or assistance, we would LOVE for you to take the time to consider the services offered by the HOPE Program.  We want the opportunity to answer your questions and offer our unique expertise on all situations related to your credit report and credit scores.  There really is no such thing as a HOPEless situation! Please feel free to give us a call with any questions you may have at 704-499-9696.  We hope to hear from you soon!