By now I’m sure you’re aware of the news reported widely about a major breach at the credit bureau Equifax. Equifax is one of the “big three” companies (along with TransUnion and Experian) that compile consumer credit histories and furnish reports to lenders considering credit applications. As you have likely heard by now, this breach happened mid-May; the company discovered it in July but didn’t announce it to the public until September, and only after the Equifax executives sold off their stock before the hack was disclosed to the public. This breach has exposed the sensitive personal information of 143 million people. This breach included everything from Social Security, birthdates, account numbers, addresses and even phone numbers. But there are things that you can do to protect yourself, and I’ve listed a few below.
- Contact Equifax to see if you were a consumer who has been impacted by the breach. You can do this online at their website or call the toll-free number. Please do this at your own risk, as the first link that was shared by Equifax to the public was an erroneous site that wasn’t secured properly.
- Contact all of the credit bureaus and add a Fraud Alert to each of your credit files.
- Equifax is offering FREE ID theft services, but if you sign up for it, you may waive your right to join a class action suit in the future. If you’ve already enrolled, do your research to know what this “FREE” service covers and for how long.
- Seriously monitor your accounts over the next few years…but really for life! This includes your online bank statements, credit card statements, and any other pertinent financial documents on regular basis. Change the passwords on all of your online accounts. Check your options for free monitoring services that will allow you to see your credit report daily and monitor accounts reporting to the bureaus. Credit Karma, Quizzle and Credit Sesame are just a few credit monitoring services that will allow you to see your credit report as often as you want.
- Check your credit report for suspicious activity. Get your annual free credit report from each of the three major bureaus. The official website is www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
- Learn how to spot spam and phishing emails. I’m already seeing the spam and phishing emails that are imposters and claiming to be Equifax. Watch your social media accounts as well as your and personal email(s).
- Consider a credit freeze as a preventable tool to help stop imposters from using your personal information to establish credit, a crime also known as “identity theft.” Freezing your credit file means that new credit cannot be established in your name until you lift the freeze. Unless you are a documented victim of identity theft, you may have to pay a fee to be placed and another fee to lift the freeze temporarily when you need to apply for credit, though a handful of states mandate that freezes be free for all residents…..Illinois hasn’t as of yet. There are pros and cons to freezing your credit file so do your homework before taking action. Equifax has offered free credit file freezes until Nov. 21, 2017. If you want a free credit file freeze from Equifax, you can call 800-349-9960 or visit the company’s website.
Please do not take this breach lightly! Even if you feel your credit file isn’t worth anything to someone because of bad credit, your personal data is valuable and worth selling for identity theft for things such as health insurance, medical services, tax fraud and many other items that are not credit related. Hackers can be very patient, so it’s important to keep an eye out long after this story fades from the headlines.
If you’re interested in having Janice Parker speak at your upcoming event, about this subject or any other credit related matter, please contact her at (732) 410-2671.