The Equifax Breach: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself
You've heard the news: 145 million people had their personal information hacked from a major credit bureau. Now's the time to protect yourself from identity theft. Here's how.
I tend to ignore news about people hacking major companies because it seems like they happen nearly every month. Besides, they don’t usually affect me. But when the news came out that Equifax — one of the three main credit-reporting agencies — was hacked, I started paying attention. You should, too.
Equifax holds information on anyone with a credit history. If you have ever needed your credit checked — say, for example, when taking out a loan, applying for a new credit card, or filling out a rental application — somebody likely examined your file at Equifax.
From May to July of 2017, thieves stole the names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers of 145 million people.
Credit-card numbers for 209,000 people were also stolen, as well as documents with personal information for about 182,000 people. The Equifax breach affected people in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
The Equifax Breach: How Can I Tell if I was Affected?
While Equifax has a website to check if you are one of the 145 million people affected, there have been reports that it does not work appropriately. It’s unclear what the identifying criteria is for those affected, so you should do all you can to protect yourself from identity theft, anyway.
What Should I Do?
1. Check Your Credit
You can do this for free through AnnualCreditReport.com. Look for any discrepancies or errors and address them.
2. Lock or Freeze Your Credit at the Three Main Reporting Agencies
That would be Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Freezing your credit ensures that no one can open a credit card, bank account, or loan in your name without your approval. If you need to apply for a loan, you can thaw your file using a PIN number that the agency provides. However, there may be fees for this service.
You may also want to consider freezing your credit at Innovis and ChexSystems. The latter provides information to banks for setting up new accounts.
3. File Your Taxes Early
This will prevent thieves from taking your refund. With so much personal information leaked, it may be easy for someone to file in your name.
4. Call Your Senators
Tell them that it’s not okay for these companies to maintain files on you without your consent, then charge you to freeze your credit. This service should be free for life, and all credit-reporting agencies should be required to abide by this rule. Experian and TransUnion have already stated that they will continue to charge for these services.
Are Identity-Theft Products Worth It?
Credit-monitoring products help you keep track of your credit and will alert you if something is wrong. You often have access to your credit score and credit report and are eligible for fraud resolution assistance or identity-theft insurance.
Equifax is offering free credit monitoring through their TrustedID program for one year. You have until January 31, 2018 to enroll. However, it’s unclear how much they will charge you after the year is over.
TransUnion’s service costs $19.95 a month, while Experian’s product costs $19.99 a month. These services also allow you to easily place a lock on your credit. Can you spare nearly $240 a year for that?
You may be able to get discounts through various agencies and organizations. For example, USAA offers CreditCheck and ID Monitoring through Experian for $7.95 a month — or for $12.95 for all three agencies. Sam’s Club members can enroll in LifeLock credit monitoring for as low as $7.49 per month for one bureau, or $22.49 for all three. Other businesses may offer discounts, as well.
If you don’t want — or can’t afford — to pay for a service through the major agencies, consider signing up for Credit Sesame or Credit Karma. Both of these companies offer credit monitoring for free. Credit Sesame offers fraud resolution assistance, while Credit Karma lets you challenge incorrect information on your credit report directly through their website. Keep in mind that these services will only pull data from one credit bureau.
What Else Should I Know?
It is absolutely possible to track your credit for free, and taking the following steps will help protect you:
Along with access to your credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com, many banks and credit cards offer free access to your credit score at any time. You may also want to enroll in a financial tracking service — such as Mint or You Need a Budget — to stay on top of your finances and to note any weird charges. Set alerts on credit cards and bank accounts and sign up for free credit monitoring, as well. This way, you can stay informed of suspicious activity.