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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/.

(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 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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Warning Signs You May Be a Victim of Identity Theft

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Warning Signs You May Be a Victim of Identity Theft

Welcome to Part 1 of the
HOPE4USA.com Identity Theft Series

Identity theft happens when someone steals your private identifying information and fraudulently uses your name and information to open accounts in your name without your permission. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the US. Nearly 1/2 a million consumers submitted complaints regarding identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission in 2015 (and those are just the consumers who complained - the actual number of victims is probably much higher). 


For Part 2 of the HOPE4USA.com Identity Theft Series click below:
How to Prevent Identity Theft


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Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with nearly 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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3 Steps to Protect Your Credit after the Target Data Breach

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3 Steps to Protect Your Credit after the Target Data Breach

The reported number of consumers who were victims of the Target data breach is continuing to rise. Original estimates indicated that 40 million Target customers had their payment information compromised. Now, reports are as high as 110 million consumers who may be victims of the data breach – a breach which includes personal data in addition to payment information. Whether or not we ever know the real number of victims, we can be sure that the data breach is the largest in history.

If you shopped at Target over the holidays then your data was almost certainly compromised. However, it appears that the damage may be even more severe than originally believed. In fact according to several reports, Target customers who had their information stolen may include online shoppers and customers who have shopped at the store at “any point in the past.” Concerned that you may have been a victim of the data breach? Here are 3 steps that you may wish to consider to protect yourself from future fraudulent activity.

1. Step One: Get new credit cards, debit cards, and PIN numbers…yesterday!

Banks are currently issuing millions of new debit cards and credit cards to their customers in the wake of this enormous data breach. Yes, changing your PIN numbers and plastic may be a bit of a hassle but it is nothing compared to the hassle which comes along with fighting fraudulent charges or identity theft. You might have to make a few calls to update your payment information for any reoccurring bills (i.e. gym memberships, satellite television, coffee of the month club, etc.) but the hassle is well worth the protection it will afford you. If any fraudulent charges do occur you will want to be sure to call your bank immediately to alert them. Next, take a deep breath and try not to freak out. You can rest assured that, as long as you notify your bank in a timely fashion, you will not be responsible for the fraudulent charges thanks to a number of consumer protection laws. You should not have to lose a penny out of your pocket.

2. Step Two: Consider a credit freeze, but count the cost.

A credit freeze is a proactive way to help protect your credit reports before identity theft occurs. (NOTE: a credit freeze will protect your personal data, but not your credit card or debit card information.) When you freeze your credit reports you are actually taking the reports out of circulation. Therefore, no future lender will be able to access your credit reports when taking an application for a loan or a credit card. If a scam artist is trying to steal your information to open fraudulent accounts a credit freeze will stop him in his tracks. Keep in mind that you will want to freeze your credit reports with all 3 credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian. There is a small fee to freeze the reports per credit bureau, but that fee can be waived in most states if you have already been the victim of identity theft. It is also possible for you to contact the credit bureaus to remove the freeze from your reports if you need to have your credit pulled for a legitimate purpose in the future. Credit freezes are certainly a hassle, but nothing compares to the effectiveness of a credit freeze for preventing identity theft from occurring.

3. Step Three: Consider credit monitoring, but recognize the limitations.

Credit monitoring offers a reactive type of protection for your personal information. However, like the credit freeze, credit monitoring does not offer any protection from fraudulent charges on your debit cards or credit cards. Credit monitoring does not actually do anything to prevent identity theft either, but rather informs you that identity theft has already occurred. Target recently announced that it will be offering free Experian credit monitoring to the victims of its data breach for one year. Unfortunately, credit monitoring with one credit bureau is simply not enough to help identity theft victims properly monitor for fraudulent accounts since it is important to monitor all 3 credit bureaus for any unauthorized changes. (CLICK HERE to compare a list of credit report and credit score monitoring services currently available.) Being the last to know that your information has been stolen is not always terribly helpful. However, it is certainly better to know last than not to know at all.


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About the Author

Michelle Black is an 12+ year credit expert with HOPE4USA, a published author, the credit blogger at www.HOPE4USA.com, 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, budgeting, and recovering from identity theft. You can connect with Michelle on the HOPE Facebook page by clicking here.  

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