By: Andrew Wilber
Last week, the consumer credit reporting agency Equifax revealed a massive data breach that exposed the personal information of 143 million Americans. From mid-May through July, hackers gained access to the agency’s system, which houses a trove of personal data – including names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses, credit card numbers and driver’s license numbers. In the wake of this breach, here are four steps you can immediately take to safeguard your personal information from the threat of identity theft:
1. Find out if you were impacted. Visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to determine if your information was impacted. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab, provide your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number, and Equifax will tell you if your information might have been impacted. The agency will also offer one year free of its credit monitoring service, but do not rely exclusively on this service; it only lasts one year, and it won’t protect your credit reports at the other major reporting agencies. (Note that while the terms of service for Equifax’s credit monitoring service provide that enrollees forfeit their right “to bring or participate in a class action, class arbitration, or other representative action,” Equifax has publicly assured consumers that this clause does not apply to the recent data breach.)
2. Request a fraud alert. Ask the three major consumer credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TranUnion — to place a fraud alert on your credit report. Fraud alerts prevent identity theft by requiring businesses to verify your identity before extending credit in your name. There are two kinds of fraud alerts.
- Initial fraud alerts. File an initial fraud alert when you believe you may have been a victim of identity theft. Initial fraud alerts remain on your file for 90 days and require lenders to take additional steps before granting a line of credit in your name. When you file an initial fraud alert with one agency, that agency should contact the other two agencies. But if you haven’t received a confirmation from each, contact each agency individually.
- Extended fraud alerts. File an extended fraud alert when you know that you have been a victim of identity theft. Extended fraud alerts remain on your file for seven years and require that lenders verify your identity by phone before granting a line of credit in your name. To file an extended credit alert, contact each reporting agency individually, complete a request form and provide a copy of the identity theft report.
3. Periodically check your credit. The three major reporting agencies offer one free credit report every year. If you rotate between agencies to request the reports over the course of the year, you can check your credit every four months.
4. Consider freezing your credit report. A credit freeze limits who can view your credit report without affecting your credit score. After reporting a credit freeze with each agency, you’ll receive confirmation letters with a unique PIN or password that you’ll need if you choose to lift the freeze. Fees for freezing your credit depend on where you live, but typically range from five to ten dollars.
Most importantly, always contact law enforcement right away if you suspect that any of your personal information has been used in any way. If you have any questions about the impact of the Equifax breach or need support in protecting your personal data, feel free to contact KJK.