The Equifax Data Breach
If you have a credit report, it’s likely that you’re one of the over 140 million Americans whose sensitive personal information was accessed through a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies. The other major agencies are Experian and TransUnion.
According to Equifax, this is what occurred. Hackers were able to access Equifax’s data from mid-May through July. The hackers were able to access people’s names, their Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some cases, their driver’s license numbers. Equifax has indicated that over 200,000 people also has their credit card numbers stolen, and over 180,000 had dispute documents with personal identifying information compromised.
What Should I Do?
According to the US Federal Trade Commission, there are several steps you can take to prevent your information from being misused.
Visit Equifax’s website, https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/, and find out if your information was exposed. Note that this site is not controlled by the FTC.
Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The Equifax site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach. Note that some tech experts have said that every name entered into the Equifax website is generating a positive result.
Whether or not your information was exposed, American consumers are eligible for a year of free credit monitoring and other services. The Equifax site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.
Here are some other steps to take to help protect yourself after a data breach:
Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – for free – by visiting https://www.annualcreditreport.com/. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit https://www.identitytheft.gov/ to find out what to do.
Consider placing a credit freeze on your files with the credit reporting agencies. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. We’ve provided links for the three credit reporting agencies below.
Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
If possible, file your 2017 taxes early – as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a thief can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund. Respond promptly to letters from the IRS.
You can request a credit freeze from the three major reporting agencies here:
TransUnion, at https://www.transunion.com/product/trueidentity-free-identity-protection, offers their TrueIndentity program for free
Experian, at https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html, offers their security freeze (for $10 to Oregon residents, $10 to California residents under age 65, and $10.95 to Washington residents under age 65)
Equifax, at https://www.freeze.equifax.com or by phone at (800) 685-1111, is currently challenged by phone system and website crashes