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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.


Wells Fargo Scandal: 3 Steps You Should Take If You Are a Customer of the Banking Giant


Wells Fargo Scandal: 3 Steps You Should Take If You Are a Customer of the Banking Giant

Since 2011 employees of Wells Fargo may have opened over 2 million unauthorized credit card and bank accounts without the permission of their customers. The banking giant was recently fined a whopping $185 million by regulators as a result of the investigation which reveled these and other disturbing findings.

The Scandal Is Actually Identity Theft

Motivated by the desire to meet cross selling sales quotas, a disturbingly large number of Wells Fargo employees opened accounts which were not authorized by their customers. Over 5,300 employees have been fired by the banking giant as a result of the scandal; however, that does not erase the fact that over 1.5 million unauthorized deposit accounts were potentially opened without consent and a shocking 565,443 credit card application were submitted without permission.

Stated simply, the Wells Fargo employees who participated in this shady behavior for years committed identity theft. Identity theft is defined by Merriam-Webster as "the illegal use of someone else's personal information (such as a Social Security number) especially in order to obtain money or credit." Victims of the Wells Fargo scam have been charged fees and many have faced credit score damage due to the illegal actions of another. Wells Fargo has been ordered by the CFPB to pay "full restitutions to all victims," but those funds will not undo any credit score damage which occurred as a result of the fraud. 

Steps You Should Take

If you bank with Wells Fargo you should certainly consider taking steps to ensure that you were not charged any fees unfairly. You should also verify that your credit is not currently being damaged by any unauthorized accounts. Here are 3 steps to help you get started.

1. Review Your Credit Reports

In light of the scandal, the very first thing you should do if you bank at Wells Fargo is to take a long, hard look at all 3 of your credit reports. It is important to review your credit reports often, but it is especially important to review your credit reports when you suspect that you may be a victim of identity theft. You should check your reports for both unauthorized credit card accounts and unauthorized hard inquiries (i.e. when your credit report was pulled by a lender as part of a loan application). You can claim a free copy of your 3 reports online each year at If you have already claimed your free reports or if you wish to see your credit scores then another great resource to check out is

If you discover unauthorized inquiries, know that they have the potential to damage your credit scores for 12 months and may remain on your credit reports for 2 years. You can alert the credit bureaus and the bank if any unauthorized inquiries occurred and ask that they be removed from your reports since they were a result of identity theft. These requests can be handled on your own, or you can hire a reputable credit repair professional to take care of the leg work for you.

2. Be Cautious When Closing Credit Card Accounts

Fraudulently opened Wells Fargo credit card accounts are not automatically going to have a negative impact upon your credit. Yes, the initial inquiry would have hurt your credit along with the fact that the new account might have lowered the average age of accounts on your credit reports. Both of these factors might have damaged your credit scores. However, oddly enough the credit card you never asked to open might actually be helping your credit scores overall.

If you discover an unauthorized Wells Fargo credit card on your credit reports, but the account is reporting a $0 balance and no late payments then the account could possibly be helping your scores by lowering your overall revolving utilization ratio. The fact of the matter is that closing the unauthorized credit card account might even potentially have a negative impact upon your scores. However, if the account is impacting your credit negatively then, just like with the unauthorized inquiries, you have the right to contact the credit reporting agencies and the bank itself to request that the fraudulent account be completely deleted from your credit reports.

3. See If You Are Owed a Refund

Unauthorized bank accounts, thankfully, are generally not going to have any impact upon your credit reports or scores. Furthermore, there is no potential danger of damaging your credit scores by closing these accounts if that is your desire. Of course you should keep in mind that although these accounts are likely not impacting your credit, you may have been unfairly charged banking fees associated with these accounts. It is a good idea to check a history (online, over the phone, or in person) of all existing Wells Fargo accounts in your name. If you discover any accounts which were opened without your consent, you can take a look at your statements (both for the individual accounts and your primary account as well) to see if you are owed a refund for wrongfully charged bank fees.

You Can Ask for Help

As is the case with any credit related problem, you have the right to try to navigate the muddy waters of repairing credit errors on your own. However, remember that you have the right to hire an expert to help you as well. You do not have to struggle through analyzing your credit reports or trying to correct inaccuracies alone.

CLICK HERE to schedule a no-obligation credit analysis with a HOPE4USA expert today. 


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.


How to Prevent Identity Theft


How to Prevent Identity Theft

Welcome to part 3 of the Identity Theft Series.

In today's episode we will be discussing ways to protect yourself and prevent identity theft from happening in the first place. Follow us on Facebook during this powerful weekly series so that you can learn how to prevent identity theft, how to detect identity theft, and how to recover from identity theft if it happens to you. 

In today's video let's take a look at 3 steps you can take to protect your personal information and hopefully stop identity theft before it starts. 

For Part 3 of the Identity Theft Series click below:

How to Freeze Your Credit Reports


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.