Now what? Life After the Equifax Data Breach
Listen to my podcast episode on The Equifax Data Breach and six steps to protect yourself from identity theft:
If you live in the United States of America and are 18 years or older, chances are you are one of the 143 million consumers affected by the Equifax data breach.
What in the world does that mean for you? Equifax is one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S. The other two are Experian and Transunion.
On September 7, 2017 Equifax informed the public that cyber criminals had gained access to personal information of millions of consumers.
The company discovered the data security breach on July 29, 2017. Based on the company’s investigation, it occurred from mid-May through July 2017.
The compromised data includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some cases, even driver’s license numbers.
The breach could potentially make half of the U.S. population vulnerable to identity theft. And the news gets worse.
According to Equifax, criminals also stole credit card numbers of about 209,000 consumers. In addition, cyber thieves stole dispute documents that included personal information for another 182,000 people.
This humongous data breach not only affects American consumers. Consumers in the United Kingdom and Canada also had personal information compromised.
Equifax has said that they “have found no evidence of unauthorized access to Equifax’s core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases”. Regardless, it is extremely concerning to know that our information has been compromised.
Have You Been Affected by the Equifax data breach?
This unprecedented announcement is one that you do not want to take lightly, and this is why:
- According to the US Census, the country’s population as of July 4, 2017 was 325,365,189.
- Approximately 22% – or 71 million -, are minors, and 254 million are adults. Equifax says that they do not typically have information associated with minors.
- If the the data breach affects 143 million, the math is pretty clear. Over half of American adults are affected, including myself.
- This data could potentially be used to steal consumers’ identities to open bank accounts, credit cards, falsify ID’s, and what not!
How to Protect Yourself after the Equifax data breach
The data breach is concerning for so many reasons. First of all, because it happened at no fault of our own. Rather, it happened due to Equifax’s inability to keep it safe. And second, because it is unknown to us what kind of lifetime repercussions we might have to face.
This is what you need to know to best prepare for whatever it is to come.
1. Are you affected?
First of all, to figure out if your personal information was compromised visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. Second, look for the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number.
2. Consider enrolling in Equifax’s Trusted ID Premier
Whether you were affected or not, Equifax is offering free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring to all U.S. consumers. This service will be free for one year.
The service is called Trusted ID Premier and it includes the following:
- Monitoring of your credit report on the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian
- Copies of Equifax credit reports
- The ability to lock and unlock Equifax credit reports
- Identity theft insurance
- Internet scanning for social security numbers
But you need to act soon! The enrollment period for TrustedID Premier runs until Tuesday, November 21, 2017. Your complimentary one year subscription starts on the date that you activate it. To be able to enroll visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com
Initially Equifax extended this service but limited the options that consumers had to pursue legal action after enrolling in TrustedID Premier. The company has since updated the policy and states that:
Enrolling in the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection products that we are offering as part of this cyber-security incident does not prohibit consumers from taking legal action.
3. Monitor your credit activity
Stay on top of your bank account statements, credit card accounts, and credit reports and notify immediately to your bank of any unauthorized activity. You will be able to monitor your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit report free of charge if you enroll for TrustedID Premier.
Consumers who are not enrolled in that program can still have free access to their credit report once a year from each of the three bureau credit monitoring agencies at www.annualcreditreport.com .
Take into consideration that free access to your credit report activity does not include access to your credit score. That service is usually available at a charge.
4. Place a fraud alert
Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert is like a “warning flag” that lets creditors know that you may be a victim of identity theft. You will need to take additional steps to verify your identity, if anybody tries to open a line of credit on your name.
A fraud alert still allows creditors access to your credit report. Consumers can place a fraud alert for free with one nationwide consumer reporting agency. The other two bureaus will be notified automatically of the fraud alert.
5. Freeze your credit report
A security freeze is like a tighter level of protection since it prevents new creditors from accessing your credit report. You have the option to lift or remove the freeze temporarily or permanently. Victims of identity theft can receive this service at no cost.
However, other consumers could pay anywhere from $2 to $10, depending on several factors. Among those, the state that you live in, your age, and military status.
For instance, in the state of Texas where I live, victims of ID theft can add, lift or remove a security freeze on their credit report for free. While those who are not victims of ID theft would have to pay a $10 fee to add or lift the freeze.
In order to receive the free service you might have to provide proof of eligibility by mail.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, placing a credit freeze:
Makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name… but it does not prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
6. Lock your Credit Report
Another option available to consumers is a credit report lock. This feature is similar to the security freeze but it only locks access to your credit report at the particular bureau where you activate it. As a result, an Equifax credit file lock will only limit what creditors can see on your Equifax credit report. The same is true for TransUnion or Experian.
According to Equifax, you can have either a security freeze on your credit file or a credit lock. You cannot have both at the same time.
A credit security freeze appears to be a more comprehensive option to protect against identity theft.
To learn more about fraud alerts and security freezes visit: www.ftc.gov/idtheft
The Looming Question
Equifax offered free TrustedID Premier coverage for a year, and I will certainly be enrolling in it.
The looming question in the minds of millions of Americans is, what would the lifetime impact of the data breach be?
As anxious as we might be for answers, one thing is for sure. We cannot rely on the one year coverage of Equifax’s free TrustedID Premier to keep our identities safe.