Thursday, September 14, 2017

Equifax Data Breach: What You Can Do

Credit bureaus, or credit reporting agencies, are companies that collect and maintain consumer credit information then resell this information to other businesses in the form of credit reports. The three main credit reporting agencies in the U.S. are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.  These agencies collect information on all your financial transactions from banks, credit card companies, mortgage lenders, and other business with which you may have an account.  

Recently, however, Equifax experienced a huge security breach. Hackers managed to obtain access to the personal data of around 143 million people. The private information that was hacked includes people's social security numbers, addresses, birthdays, and credit card numbers. You’re probably a victim.

In response to the massive breach, Equifax has set up a special website that allows people to check to see if their personal information has been compromised. To find out if you may have been impacted, visit, and click on the "Potential Impact" tab. You'll have to enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number to do so.

In an effort to appease consumers Equifax is offering one free year of credit monitoring to all Americans. After that year you will likely have to pay a monthly fee if you want to keep receiving their monitoring service, and your identifying information will continue to be at risk since we can’t know who has obtained it since the breach.

Merely getting credit monitoring, whether through Equifax’s one year offer or any of the other services available for a fee, is not enough to protect you from the risk of identify theft after this breach. Tim Herrera of the New York Times suggests a few other steps to increase your likelihood of protecting your credit and your identity:

  1. Set Up Fraud Alerts. A good first step would be to establish fraud alerts with all three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Fraud alerts notify you if someone tries to apply for credit in your name. With a fraud alert, when you or someone else attempts to open a credit account in your name, increase the credit limit on an existing account, or obtain a new card on an existing account, the lender should takes steps to verify that you have authorized the request. However, fraud alerts do not prevent third parties from viewing your credit file. Setting up fraud alerts is free, and the steps will vary depending on your banks or credit unions.

  1. Consider Credit Freezes. A credit freeze locks your credit files so that only companies you already do business with will have access to them; credit freezes block your file from being disclosed to third parties. As Ron Lieber of the New York Times explains, “. . . the bureaus are not supposed to release your credit report to any company except the ones that already have you as a customer. Why is this important? When a thief shows up with your social security number and address to apply for credit in your name, the lender will go to fetch your credit report before anything else happens. If it can’t retrieve the report because of the freeze, then no new account for the thief.”
You can thaw your freeze every time you want to apply for new credit, or you can permanently eliminate the freeze by using a personal identification number (PIN) you will get at the time you apply the freeze. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion allow consumers in any state to add, lift or remove a freeze online, by phone or by mail. If you don’t have that PIN you’ll have a heckuva time trying to thaw or remove a freeze, so this is a dangerous option if you don’t have a good safe reliable system for storing and retrieving PINs, passwords, and account info.
For WV residents (the fees vary by state) the cost is $5 for each freeze, thaw, and removal on each of your 3 credit reporting agency accounts. Equifax has said it will waive all fees until November 21, 2017 for people who want to freeze the Equifax credit files.

  1. Check Your Credit Report. Often. You are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. You can access your free reports at There are lots of other websites that purport to get you the free reports, watch out for their sneaky fees. Experts advise spreading these out over the year, so that you obtain a credit report about once every four months. Carefully reviewing your credit report can help you spot suspicious activity. And, as Herrera notes, because the Equifax breach will have long-term consequences, it is a good idea to start checking your credit report as part of your regular financial routines.

For more information on the Equifax Security Breach see:

For more information on credit freezes see:

For more information on how to protect yourself see:


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