Protecting Your Identity After the Equifax Breach
Prospective homeowners must be concerned with their credit scores and credit history. Credit scores affect our ability to obtain credit and the cost of insurance, for example. On September 7, 2017, Equifax announced what is widely regarded as the biggest data breach in American History. The company disclosed that its computer records had been compromised, exposing the personal information of 143 million U.S. consumers. That is more than half of all Americans over the age of 18. Were you affected? We’ve gathered information and tools to help protect you!
WHAT IS EQUIFAX?
Equifax is one of the three major credit bureaus utilized by credit reporting agencies in the United States (Experian and TransUnion are the other two). In the U.S., consumer reporting agencies collect personal information, financial data, and alternative data on individuals from a variety of sources such as creditors, lenders, utilities, debt collection agencies and the courts. These sources report their payment experience with the consumer to the credit reporting agencies. The information is made available on request for the purposes of credit risk assessment, credit scoring or for other purposes such as employment consideration or leasing an apartment. Consumer reporting agencies can apply a mathematical algorithm to provide a “credit score” to assess the likelihood that an individual will repay a particular debt given the frequency that other individuals in similar situations have defaulted.
WHAT INFORMATION WAS COMPROMISED?
The information that was hacked includes, but is not limited to, names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. In addition, credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers, and certain documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers, were accessed.
HOW TO TELL IF YOUR INFORMATION WAS INCUDED IN THE BREACH:
Equifax has created a dedicated website where consumers can see if they were impacted, find out more information about the incident and learn how to protect themselves. Consumers can enter their last name and the last six digits of their Social Security Number to see if their information was included in the files that were compromised.
You can check if your information was compromised here: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF:
Equifax is offering credit freezes without cost to the consumer. A credit freeze is the most effective way to stop someone from using your data to steal your identity or access to existing accounts. If you have been a victim of identity theft, a credit freeze may be the most effect tool for you. However, they are not offering to pay for freezes to your TransUnion and Experian reports at this time.
Equifax is also offering about one year of credit file monitoring and identity theft protection for free to all U.S. consumers if you sign up by January 31, 2018. The product they are promoting is called TrustedID Premier, which includes 3-Bureau credit file monitoring of Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reports; copies of Equifax credit reports; the ability to lock and unlock Equifax credit reports; identity theft insurance up to $1 million; and Internet scanning for Social Security numbers.
Be careful, however, because this credit monitoring service normally has a monthly fee and it’s likely that such a fee will be imposed after one year. This is a fee many consumers cannot afford.
All consumers have a right to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies once a year. You can obtain your report at www.annualcreditreport.com. In order to monitor your credit at no cost for one year, you might stagger your request for each credit report by three or four months. It is important as a consumer to look at your credit report; about 26 percent of consumers who examine their credit report find a mistake.