In short, Equifax was recently breached. The data was accessed between May and June. There are many other articles outlining the details and you can look to any major news outlet for more information. What I would like to do is provide people with some information on:
What I would like to do is provide people with some information on:
- Who can be affected
- How they could be affected
- Most importantly provide you steps to take to protect yourself from further harm
Who can be affected and how?
Everyone affected by this breach will have to monitor their credit and access to their credit indefinitely. This situation is drastically different in comparison to when someone steals your credit cards. If someone steals your credit cards, your credit card company can notify you of anomalous events because they have your purchasing history. They can leverage data analytics in order to flag activities that don’t follow your spending patterns. From there you can simply cancel your credit card number, and receive a new card.
In this breach, people’s social security numbers were stolen, as well as birthdays, addresses, and license numbers. With this data, criminals can simply “become you”… They can take out mortgages in your name, open net new credit cards in your name, take out auto loans in your name. Other things to be mindful of are: criminals taking out loans against your 401ks, IRAs, etc.
This data is generally all linked to your social security number, with the data that was stolen, all financial accounts are certainly viable targets. This is breach has effectively given half of American financial cancer… There are steps to take to put the effects in remission, but people will have to watch their credit for the rest of their lives.
Sadly, seniors may be especially at risk because of this breach, as they are generally not tech savvy. Not only do they face the same challenges as everyone else, but they are at risk because Medicare and Medicaid leverage social security numbers. Medicaid uses your state ID or driver’s license as a second form of identification, but that data was also compromised. If you have senior parents or you are a senior yourself, please keep an eye on your Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
Employers may be affected in a unique manner; with a social security number, people can file false unemployment claims. This puts a burden on employers to refute fraudulent claims.
What can do you do?
1. Put a freeze on your credit
FAQs about placing a freeze on your credit:
No. A credit freeze does not affect your credit score.
A credit freeze also does not:
- prevent you from getting your free annual credit report
- keep you from opening a new account, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance. But if you’re doing any of these, you’ll need to lift the freeze temporarily, either for a specific time or for a specific party, say, a potential landlord or employer. The cost and lead times to lift a freeze vary, so it’s best to check with the credit reporting company in advance.
- prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. You still need to monitor all bank, credit card, and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.
How do you place a freeze on your credit?
Contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies:
Equifax: 1-800-349-9960 (this phone call took me 5 minutes)
Experian: 1‑888‑397‑3742 (this phone call took me 6 minutes)
TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872 (this phone call took me 9 minutes)
What you should expect from the process:
I have called each of the credit agencies and have placed a freeze on my credit, the charge from each company was $10.00, and the process took 20 minutes total to complete. The fee will be different depending on the state you are calling from. Your state may allow you to put a freeze on your credit for free, but if not, the 20 minutes and $30.00 are well worth the protection. When you call the credit companies the process is slightly different.
For Equifax, you will be provided with a 10 digit PIN and you will be required to write it down. With Experian, the automated system stated that they would send a hard copy letter to my address. TransUnion couldn’t complete my request in an automated fashion, so your experience may be slightly different. TransUnion originally asked me for a six-digit PIN, but couldn’t complete my transaction automatically. I was forwarded to a representative and I completed the transaction, they stated they would mail my PIN to my home. This process was not complex and was painless, I would recommend these protections to anyone. Remember these PINs are CRITICALLY important when you need to remove the freeze on your credit, they are the keys that unlock your credit. If you are going to store this information on your computer, I would recommend encrypting the data with a tool like PGP.
Remember the password for the PGP file, write it down and store it in a safe place where you won’t lose it. Then, I would make copies of the encrypted file and store it “in the cloud” or somewhere you can recover it if your system dies.
2. Put a permanent or 5 year opt-out of pre-screened credit offers
Find the opt out link here: https://www.optoutprescreen.com/?rf=t
You have two options:
- 5 years opt-out can be completed electronically via the website
- Permanent opt-out of pre-screened offerings must be sent in through traditional paper mail
If you choose to permanently opt out, you will need to print out the form. This process took me about five minutes to complete. You will receive a form on your screen which you will be required to print and mail into the credit providers. The address where to send the letter to is included on the form.
3. Change your credit card numbers
Since so many credit card numbers were exposed, I would consider calling your credit card companies and changing your card numbers. This can save you the trouble of disputing fraudulent charges if or when they occur.
One thing to know is that if you choose to use the identity monitoring service provided by Equifax you give up your legal rights to pursue legal damages:
If you can’t afford credit monitoring on your own you still may want to use their service, but this is something to consider carefully. None of these steps can replace personal due diligence, but they can reduce your personal risk.
Even if you take these steps, continuously monitor your credit. Use a credit monitoring service, and try and setup alarms on your credit to trigger when someone applies for credit in your name.