Last week credit-reporting agency, Equifax, disclosed a data breach that has affected approximately 143 million Americans. You should assume that you have been affected. Equifax disclosed last Thursday (September 7) that personal client data consisting of Social Security numbers, dates of birth, names, addresses, driver’s licenses and credit card numbers were exposed through the breach.
Equifax first discovered this breach back in July of 2017. Equifax stated they immediately took action to stop the intrusion and hired an independent cybersecurity firm to conduct a through review to confirm the extent of the invasion and the information accessed. The company also reported the criminal activity to law enforcement and continues to work with the authorities.
After the breach, Equifax provided a website to verify if you were affected by the breach. Initially many have questioned the accuracy of their website and the data provided. This website also hosts important updates for consumers, FAQs, and how to enroll in the credit-reporting agency’s complimentary identity theft protection and credit file monitoring.
Equifax is offering free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring to all U.S. consumers, even if you are not impacted by the data breach. You may want to do this, but we do not feel this provides you with any real form of identity theft “protection.” It is more like a monitoring program than protection. Per Equifax’s website, “This offering, called TrustedID Premier, includes 3-Bureau credit monitoring of your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports; copies of your Equifax credit report; the ability to lock and unlock your Equifax credit report; Identity theft insurance; and internet scanning for your Social Security number- all complimentary to U.S. consumer for one year.” The enrollment for this offering must be completed by November 21, 2017.
A first step you can take now is to set up fraud alerts with all three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You will get an alert if someone tries to apply for credit in your name.
Another step you should take now is to put a credit freeze in place at each of the three credit-reporting agencies in an attempt to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft. A credit freeze at each agency prevents someone from establishing new credit in your name. Eve Velasquez of the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center said on CBS News, “A credit freeze will lock the criminals out of opening financial accounts in your name, but there are other types of identity theft. And that includes medical, criminal and governmental.”
As of last Saturday, tens of thousands of U.S. consumers had initiated credit freezes. Credit freezes are open to anyone and are temporarily or permanently reversible. Equifax is currently not charging a fee to initiate a credit freeze. It is unclear how Experian and TransUnion will handle the fee to initiate and lift the credit freeze. Some states require consumers to pay a fee to lift a freeze. The fee range is about $5 to $10 and varies by state.
A credit freeze does not affect existing credit arrangements like outstanding loans or credit card accounts. Establishing a credit freeze helps to prevent others from opening new credit card and loans in your name. A credit freeze is not recommended if you plan to open up a new credit card or new car loan in the very near future. A credit freeze does not affect your credit score. If you establish a credit freeze, you will be given a personal identification number (PIN) that you would use when you need to temporarily or permanently reverse the credit freeze. It will take approximately three business days to lift a freeze per the Federal Trade Commission when and if you decide to lift the freeze. For more information and a helpful guide to a credit freeze, please see Alia E. Dastagir’s article, Equifax data breach: How to freeze your credit in USA Today.
Please be extra vigilant of the PIN that you are given if you decide to go the credit freeze route. Make sure the PIN Equifax and the other credit-reporting agencies gives you is a randomly generated number. Originally Equifax issued PIN numbers based on the date and time you called to set up your credit freeze, which are not considered secure.
A third step is to check your credit report. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from all three credit-reporting agencies. It is recommended to spread these out over the year, checking in every four months. You can access the credit reports here.
Separate from the credit report issue, we would again remind you to change your passwords to your online financial accounts. It may be a good idea to update and strengthen those passwords and or PIN numbers attached to those accounts. Our firm is a strong advocate of making sure you safely and efficiently manage your passwords. We have written several blog posts regarding this subject matter: 5 Password Security Tipsand How to securely and efficiently Manage Your Passwords.
Even if your name does not register as part of the Equifax data breach, we recommend monitoring your credit reports and updating your password(s) and any PIN numbers associated with your accounts.
As the world is more tech savvy, it definitely puts us on high alert with our personal information and the number of companies who have access to it. If you need further guidance or have questions regarding the data breach, please contact our office.
This week’s takeaway: Everyone should consider that they are affected by the breach and should establish a credit freeze at all three credit-reporting agencies. Please see the article, Equifax data breach: How to freeze your credit by Alia E. Dastagir, USA Today, for all three credit-reporting agencies contact information and how to guide to a credit freeze.
Additional helpful guidance and some of the information we gathered can be found with the links below: