SPECIAL: Keeping Yourself Safe in the Wake of the Equifax Data Breach

Attribution @C.C.Chapman
Attribution @C.C.Chapman

 

On September 7, 2017, Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus, released a statement revealing that their database was hacked through a vulnerability of its security protocols on their website, which resulted in the stealing of personal information of an estimated 143 million people, including some in the United Kingdom and Canada. Equifax believes that the data breach may have happened sometime between mid-May and the end of July, but did not announce this massive breach to the public until September. The information that was accessed by hackers includes the names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some cases, even driver’s license numbers. Additionally, Equifax has also stated that credit card numbers for an estimated 209,000 consumers, and certain dispute documents for approximately 182,000 consumers, which included the previously mentioned personal information, were accessed.

For some people, this is old news, but for others this is a current problem which has become a seemingly never-ending nightmare. There are millions of people who are currently still dealing with the repercussions of the Equifax breach. If you are one of the millions of people affected, here’s what you need to know and should do:

 

Realize that you could be vulnerable, even if you’ve never personally used any of Equifax’s services.

You do not have to have used Equifax for any services in the past in order for you to be affected. As one of the three major credit bureaus, their job is to gather any information on you related to your financial history. Who you are, everywhere you have ever lived, any loans that you have, and anything that you have ever done that requires credit in any capacity, they have a record of it.

 

Check to see if you are personally affected by the data breach.

Equifax created the website www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/ in order for individuals to check and see if your personal information has been compromised. There is also a link of this page for people to sign up for free credit monitoring services from Equifax.

WARNING: If you agree to sign up for their credit monitoring services, then according to their terms of service, you are waiving the right to sue them, and you are subjecting yourself to Equifax’s arbitration clause.

If you have already been the victim of any fraudulent activity, you can go to www.identitytheft.gov to file a report with the FTC as to what happen to you. You should also file an identity theft report with your local law enforcement agency.

 

Get a copy of your free credit report as soon as possible.

You should get a copy of your free credit report from the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax as soon as possible. This will help you in monitoring any fraudulent activity regarding your credit. Make sure that you print yourself a hard copy of each of your credit reports if possible, and store them somewhere secure.

 

Immediately after obtaining your credit reports, place a (free) freeze on your credit.

TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax each will allow you to place a freeze on your credit for free (the directly links are hyperlinked – it is best to try and place your security freeze during normal business hours). Also known as a security freeze, this will prevent any entity from being able to obtain copies of your credit report by restricting who can access it. The goal of a security freeze is to make it more difficult for identity thieves to open any new accounts in your name. Each credit bureau will require you to create a pin, which only you will have, so make sure once again, that you keep that pin number safe in a secure place.

Keep in mind that while a security freeze is in place, you will be unable to do things such as opening a new bank account, applying for certain jobs, renting an apartment, or buying insurance. If you plan on doing anything that requires access to your credit, you’ll need to temporarily lift the security freeze, either for a specific time or for a specific entity. Check with the credit reporting company in advance to see if there are any fees associated with lifting a security freeze.

 

Monitor all bank, credit card, and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.

Sign up for notifications from your bank so that you can be informed immediately if any changes are made regarding your account. Look for suspicious activity within your bank accounts and credit cards. Even if you haven’t noticed any suspicious activity, you should still contact your banking institution(s) as a precaution. With the information that was access in the Equifax breach, identity thieves have enough information to call your bank, assuming your identity. Ask your bank’s fraud prevention department if there are any additional security methods that can be put on your account. Most banks offer additional measures from a verbal password if anyone tries to call your bank as you, to having the bank have to call you directly (even if you call them first, they would have to call you back at the number they have on file) in order to ensure your identity. Change your online username and passwords as well.

After you have set up your security protocols, call back your banking / insurance institutions a few days later just to ensure that these protocols are actually being enforced. Check with your cell phone provider to see if any services or products were opened in your name as well, if you are concerned about those areas as well. You have to take an active role in monitoring any suspicious activity.

 

Finally, keep yourself well informed.

If you are an adult that has a cell phone, insurance of any kind, a bank account, owns a vehicle or a home, etc., then all of this applies to you. There are several places that you can go to educate yourself further, from the FTC, to Consumer Reports, to even Late Night TV Shows. It’s up to you as a consumer to educate ourselves in order to protect yourself from further harm. The resources are out there if you are willing to look.

If you or anyone that you know has had any experiences with this, please feel free to comment below and share some tips and tricks that helped you.

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