On September 8th, Equifax announced the data breach of sensitive personal information for 143 million Americans. Equifax is one of the three main credit reporting agencies in the United States, and the 143 million people affected represents more than one-half of the U.S. population with a credit report. There have been a number of updates from Equifax since their original announcement, so it is possible more things could change. Based on what we know today, following are some things you should know about how this can affect you.
What sensitive personal information was breached?
Sensitive personal information could include: names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers. Equifax has not announced whether “trade line” information about loans or credit cards you have was also breached.
Do I need to block my credit card and get it reissued?
Criminals cannot counterfeit your credit card or use it online based solely on “trade line” information reported to Equifax, so you do NOT need to block any credit cards unless you purchased a service (like credit monitoring) from Equifax. Only 60 Metro members have given their full card payment information to Equifax and we will be contacting those members. Only those 60 members should get their cards re-issued.
How do I know if I am among the 143 million?
Equifax has a website (www.equifaxsecurity2017.com) that claims to tell you if you were part of the breach by clicking on the “potential impact” tab. However, there have been reports that you can get a different answer by accessing the site from your PC vs. your smartphone. Equifax is facing enormous potential liability from this breach, and some of their post-breach decision making has been concerning. Because of the massive scope of the breach, it is probably best to assume you may be included.
I heard Equifax is offering free credit monitoring for a year, should I sign up?
Equifax is offering free credit monitoring for one year. Initially it was reported that Equifax required consumers to agree to forego class-action lawsuit rights and limit their damages, and that consumers had to “cancel” the free monitoring within the first year or be re-enrolled. After a backlash from consumers and elected officials, Equifax now states they no longer require you to release them from liability, and that they will not automatically re-enroll for monitoring. With these changes, there is no harm in taking the free monitoring offer. However, you should understand that the threat from this breach will most certainly extend well beyond one year.
What is my risk and how can I protect myself?
The real risk to you from the Equifax data breach is some form of identity theft. This could involve someone posing as you to access accounts you already have or open new accounts in your name. While true identity theft is relatively rare, it is growing in frequency and having this much information about consumers makes it easier for criminals. There are a number of things you can do to better protect yourself with varying levels of expense, time, or inconvenience. We’ll start with the options that will result in the least amount of time and expense:
- Monitor your accounts
If you haven’t already done so, get online access to your accounts so you can periodically check for transactions you don’t recognize. In most cases, you will be reimbursed if you report unauthorized activity on your account in a timely fashion.
- Check your credit reports
You can get a free credit report annually from each of the three primary credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) at www.annualcreditreport.com. By ordering one free credit report every four months, you can periodically review your credit to ensure no one has opened an account in your name. If you want to review your credit more frequently, by law the cost of a second credit report in a year cannot exceed $12.00.
- Reset Passwords
While the Equifax data breach should not have compromised your passwords, it is always a good idea to reset your passwords whenever there is a possibility that someone has gained access to sensitive personal information about you. Whenever possible, use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters, and don’t use words or dates that can be guessed by someone with access to information about you. And, use a different password for each different online account.
- Fraud Alerts on your credit report
You can put a Fraud Alert on your credit report at no charge by contacting any one of the reporting agencies (phone numbers below). Placing a Fraud Alert on your credit requires lenders to verify your identity before getting a copy of your credit report. This can make it more difficult for someone to pose as you. However, Fraud Alerts can also slow down how quickly lenders can approve you for credit, so make the decision that’s right for you.
- Freeze on your credit report
Putting a Freeze on your credit report prevents new lenders from accessing your credit. In most cases, this will prevent someone from posing as you to apply for credit because lenders will not grant credit without pulling your credit report. However, the process to “unfreeze” your credit could take days, so if you elect to take this action, plan on it taking at least a week to get a new loan. Credit reporting agencies typically do charge a fee to freeze or unfreeze your credit.
- Credit Monitoring/Identity Monitoring/Recovery Services
For some, monitoring gives the greatest peace of mind, but there is also a monthly cost than can be significant depending on the services you purchase. Credit monitoring will alert you if someone applies for new credit in your name or if something derogatory (like a late payment) is reported on your credit. Identity monitoring looks for things that don’t necessarily appear on your credit report; like orders for new utilities or check cashing requests. Recovery services help you attempt to resolve the problems associated with identity theft.
- File your taxes early
Unfortunately, the Equifax breach gives criminals much of the information they need to file a fake tax return on you and gain access to your tax refund. One way you can protect yourself is to file your taxes as soon as possible each year.
You can contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies at the numbers below:
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us. The Equifax breach affects so many people that we’ll be looking at processes internally to help us better verify the identity of members when you call in for services.