The Equifax Breach
You may already be aware of the fact that Equifax recently announced a possible cybersecurity breach that may have exposed the private information of 143 million consumers in the United States. Equifax believes the breach occurred from mid-May through July of this year.
Protecting Your Personal Information
Many consumers have elected to have a security freeze placed on their credit reporting. A security freeze places a hold on releasing of credit information by a credit reporting agency. Before taking this action consumers should evaluate all of the implications of placing a security freeze. In addition, here are some additional steps suggested by the Federal Trade Commission as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
- Visit Equifax’s dedicated website, www.equifaxsecurity.com, to determine if the breach affected you. You will be asked for the last six digits of your Social Security number, so access the site from a secure computer with an encrypted network connection. Regardless of impact, you can enroll to receive a year of free credit monitoring through the company’s TrusteID Premier product. Be sure to review the frequently asked questions.
- Monitor your credit reports. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion all offer one free report per year through www.annualcreditreport.com. If you have not obtained free reports from these agencies within the past 12 months, the best action is to request one from each every four months. In the case of any accounts or activity you don’t recognize, visit www.IdentityTheft.gov to create a Personal Recovery Plan.
- Place initial and extended fraud alerts on your credit report by contacting any of the three bureaus (www.equifax.com, www.experian.com and www.transunion.com). Whichever company you contact is required to notify the other two. An initial alert expires after 90 days, and imposes extra, reasonable steps on lenders to confirm your identity before opening an account in your name. For the consumer’s protection- particularly in instances of severe identity breach- the alert must be restarted every 90 days. An extended alert remains in effect for seven years, and requires creditors to contact consumers via designated methods to confirm that they are in fact making the credit request. This option also comes with two free credit reports from each of the reporting companies over a 12 month period. Unlike initial alerts, you are required to contact each reporting bureau to place an extended fraud alert.
- Consider a security freeze on your credit report. In this case, your Social Security number is locked, preventing the opening of any new accounts in your name. A freeze must be initiated separately through all three reporting bureaus for it to be effective. While this helps prevent fraudulent activity, it also hinders your ability to establish new credit or apply for loans. It is, however, possible to thaw or suspend a freeze temporarily to allow a business access to your report. Equifax is currently waiving fees on credit freezes (www.freeze.equifax.com).
Additional Measures of Protection
Equifax continues to investigate the breach, but whomever conducted the breach remains unknown. As a result you may want to consider the following measures:
- Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and responding to unsolicited phone calls.
- Consider using a credit monitoring service that provides alerts when new credit is issued in your name.
- Monitor existing credit, bank and investment accounts diligently.
- File income taxes early to prevent tax identity theft.
- For more information, visit www.consumer.ftc.gov.