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By now, you’ve probably heard of the reported breach of secure data from the Equifax Credit Reporting agency.
Who is Equifax?
You may not be aware of them, but they know all about you.
Equifax is one of the ‘big three’ credit reporting agencies in the country, along with TransUnion and Experian. If you have any credit account open, they probably have a record of it. And whatever business that card is with, a department store, gas card, or any other, they most likely report your payment history to Equifax.
So Equifax has a lot of information about you that you do not want to be given out – like your social security number, driver’s license number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, past residences.
What exactly happened?
It’s been reported that between May and July 2017, hackers accessed sensitive data regarding 143 million people contained within Equifax servers.
Why is this breach more serious than recent ones?
Other big companies like Target and Yahoo have been breached just in the last few years. But they didn’t hold nearly the amount of sensitive data about you as does Equifax. You can always close your Target account or change your Yahoo password. Or require more stringent authentication.
But your social security number stays with you for life. So someone intent on stealing your identity – getting a driver’s license, credit card or even a mortgage under your name, can do it much easier with the data taken from Equifax.
Even if nothing happens in the next few years, someone who has your social security number could impersonate you three, five or even ten years down the road when you’re not suspecting it.
What are your options?
First, you should see if you’re one of the 143 million people affected. You can go to Equifax Security 2017 where they’ll ask for your name and the last 6 of your Social Security number. You’ll see right away if your data was likely accessed.
If you were affected (most likely you were) Equifax will also offer one free year of their credit protection.
Your first inclination may be to sign up for the Equifax credit protection which they offer on the same page.
Here’s why you may want to consider other options.
- There is already a class-action suit in the works, accusing Equifax of failing to protect consumers’ information. But the fine print of Equifax’s credit protection bans the member from participating in any class-action suit and requires you to participate in arbitration instead.
- The attorney general of New York, Eric Schneiderman is already challenging that fine print, but for right now that’s what you’d be agreeing to.
- Usually, when hackers specifically target credit information they sell it immediately, sometimes within minutes. This breach occurred between May and July of this year, so it’s already been several months!
- And it’s been a month from the time Equifax learned about the breach until they’re notifying customers.
What are the other options?
You can also put a freeze on your credit. This would prevent any New inquiries on your credit. So if someone were suddenly trying to take out a loan or establish some kind of credit under your name and social security number, they’d be blocked.
Your credit could only be accessed after you specifically authorize it by entering your PIN number and lifting the freeze. Then you’d be able to re-freeze it once someone you’ve approved has checked the report.
Each credit agency can charge about $7-$10 to freeze your credit (depending on what state you’re in) unless you’ve already been a victim of identity theft and can provide a police report. I live in New Jersey and was able to do this free for all three.
Freezing your credit won’t protect you if you’ve already been a victim of identity theft, so you’d still want to monitor your accounts to see if there’s suddenly big cash advance or a large purchase on one of your accounts.
Here’s where you’d need to go to freeze your credit with each agency:
TransUnion Freeze – Here you’ll find two options – The first is a credit freeze, which you’ll pay to have activated. They also offer their own product called True Identity Lock. This is free and doesn’t permit anyone to access your credit without you authorizing it. There’s a comparison graph on this page that details all the differences and both options take just a few minutes to sign up for.
You can also signup for paid services, like LifeLock or IDShield. There’s a monthly charge for these services and they usually bundle other services like assistance with credit problems if you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
Be on the lookout for
If your phone number or email address has been accessed, be on the lookout for phishing emails or calls. Thieves are very good at duplicating a company logo on emails, notifying you of a “security alert”. You’d be prompted to “verify” your login credentials or other personal information. I’ve received these emails with an exact copy of the Amazon logo.
Always be careful and check the exact address the email is originating from. Hover your cursor over the originating email address. If you have any doubt, don’t enter anything. Call the customer service number and verify. Do the same with phone calls. If you have any doubt, don’t give out anything personal. Insist on a letter mailed or tell the caller you’d like to dial the customer service number.
Each Year at a Minimum
Each year at a minimum, you should also just make a check on your credit. If you decide to buy a car or apply for any kind of credit, you don’t want to find out about a problem while you’re sitting across from a loan officer.
You can get a free credit report each year from Annual Credit Report.
Any of the three agencies can supply your credit report too, but they may charge you unless you’ve been turned down for credit. The Annual Credit site supplies the report free once a year.
Living in the digital age has a lot of advantages. We can do so many things in seconds that used to take days. But unfortunately, thieves can also exploit any vulnerability and access our sensitive data within seconds.
So take a few minutes to check your credit profile and put a few safeguards in place. Those few minutes could be very valuable!