After the Equifax Breach—What to Do Now
By now, you’ve heard of the massive Equifax data breach that has made nearly 143 million Americans’ personal information vulnerable to fraud and identity theft. Many believe the initial response from Equifax was inadequate, especially considering three top Equifax executives sold large amounts of company stock before news of the breach was released. The company has since made significant personnel changes and the FBI is undertaking an investigation. Bottom line: it’s a complex and quickly changing situation.
Of course, most people are simply concerned with how the Equifax data breach affects them and their family members and what they can do to protect themselves. Here are some tips that can help:
Find Out if You’re Affected: While it’s safe to assume just about everyone with a credit history is potentially impacted, you can go here to check if your information was part of the breach. Regardless of whether or not it shows your information was impacted, taking the following steps will help prevent new credit being taken out in your name.
Place a Credit Freeze: A credit freeze means no one — yourself included— can access your credit report to open new accounts. You will receive a PIN number you must use each time you want to freeze and unfreeze your account to apply for new credit. In most states, a credit freeze lasts until you request it be removed permanently. In a few states, a credit freeze expires after 7 years. You must contact each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, individually, to freeze/unfreeze your information.
Each credit bureau charges up to $10 (fees vary by bureau and state) each time you freeze and unfreeze your information, which can start to add up if you do it frequently. This may change, however. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Brian Schatz recently introduced a bill that would prohibit the credit bureaus from charging people to freeze their records.
Place a Fraud Alert: Unlike a credit freeze, placing a fraud alert on your account is free. When you have an alert on your report, any business or lender must verify your identity before it issues credit.
You need to contact just one of the three major credit reporting agencies to set up the fraud alert; they are then responsible to contact the other two. However, a fraud alert is short-lived, and expires after 90 days. Set up an alert on your phone’s calendar or in your day planner at the 90-day mark to continue the fraud alert.
How to Contact:
Once again, the full extent of the fallout from the Equifax data breach isn’t yet known. Personal and financial information can be available to criminals for months or even years before any attempt is made to use it fraudulently, so we must remain constantly vigilant.