Recently, one of the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, announced that it experienced a data breach from May 2017 through July 2017. This breach exposed sensitive personal information of 143 million U.S. consumers (nearly half of the U.S. population). The leaked information includes social security numbers, driver license numbers, birth dates, home addresses, e-mail addresses, and at least 200,000 credit card numbers.
Before you dismiss the possibility that you may be affected by this data breach, keep in mind that Equifax monitors the credit information on nearly every adult in the United States. If you have any form of credit history, they likely have your personal information.
The first item you’ll want to address is to find out if the data breach affected you. Equifax has set up a website where consumers can check if they have been affected by the breach. Visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and select “Potential Impact.” You will then be asked to input your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. You will receive a message informing you whether or not your personal information was affected by the data breach. Equifax announced that it will also notify consumers that were affected by mail.
Regardless of whether or not you were affected, Equifax will give you the option to sign-up for a free year of credit monitoring through the company’s TrustedID Premier product. Beware: enrolling for this service may require you to waive your right to participate, or receive any benefits from, a class action lawsuit filed against the company.
If you believe that your personal information has been affected by the Equifax data breach, there are multiple options available for you to defend yourself against any potential identity theft.
- Consider signing up for credit monitoring through your local credit union or bank. While there is typically a fee involved for these services, some consumers appreciate the convenience and peace of mind.
- Monitor your free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. Consumers are offered one free report per year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These reports will allow you to note any unauthorized activity on your credit report, such an applying for a new loan or credit card.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting any one of the three reporting agencies. Each agency is required to notify the other two. The fraud alert enforces additional steps for lenders before opening an account in your name. The fraud alert lasts 90 days and can be renewed.
- Closely monitor all of your accounts and consider changing login information. Accounts that should be monitored include banking, investment, and credit card statements. Keep in mind that theft typically happens slowly over time.
- Lastly, the most extreme option is to consider placing a freeze on your credit. A credit freeze will lock your social security number and prevent any new accounts from opening. A freeze must be done separately through each of the three reporting bureaus. This option can pose challenges to anyone who may need to apply for any new loans or credit. Credit freezes are typically permanent.
As the investigation of the Equifax data breach continues, all consumers should be reminded to exercise good safety measures to defend themselves from potential identity threats. Be wary of clicking on links or responding to unsolicited e-mails or phone calls.
If you have additional questions regarding the Equifax data breach or what actions you should take, we would be glad to discuss the matter further with you. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply call 210.733.6611.
Written by Kim Pruske