How to Respond to the Equifax Data Breach
Posted September 13, 2017
You may have read that hackers broke into the Equifax database and stole personal information tied to 143 million people; roughly 2/3 of all the adults in the U.S.A. Equifax is one of the three major credit bureaus, the other two being Experian and TransUnion.
In the case of Equifax hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people.
What to do? The four basic steps below outline what actions can be taken to reduce the negative implications of the Equifax hack.
1) Despite Equifax’s incompetence and their clumsy response to this security breach, you might as well check to see if you are impacted, assume you are, and sign up for the free service on the website www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. Remember as of today, and this is a moving target, the free credit monitoring service is only for one year, and lenders may use the other two services which are not part of this offering. Therefore the next few steps could vitally important.
2) Under federal law you’re allowed to request a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can do this every 122 days by rotating among the agencies. Alternatively, go to www.creditkarma.com to sign up for a free account and you’ll get access to free credit monitoring and your credit scores/reports from two of the above providers.
Look for suspicious accounts or activity that you don’t recognize — such as someone trying to open a new credit card or apply for a loan in your name. Then monitor your online statements. The credit report won’t tell you if there’s been money stolen from a bank account or suspicious activity on your credit card. Unfortunately, you’ll have to turn this into a habit. In most cases, theft happens over time, starting with small amounts stolen from across your accounts.
3) Place a fraud alert on your accounts with all the major credit bureaus. You can put a fraud alert, for free, by contacting one of the credit agencies, which is required to notify the other two. This will warn creditors that you may be an identity theft victim, and they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you. The fraud alert will last for 90 days and can be renewed. However, please note this is not fool proof, creditors have been known bypass this verification.
4) If you’re really worried, consider putting a freeze on your credit. A credit freeze blocks anyone from accessing your credit reports without your permission—including you. This process can take some time, can usually be done online, and each bureau will provide a unique personal identification number that you can use to “thaw” your credit file in the event that you need to apply for new lines of credit sometime in the future. DO NOT LOSE THIS PIN! Another advantage: each credit inquiry from a creditor has the potential to lower your credit score, so a freeze helps to protect your score from scammers who file inquiries.
Fees to freeze your account vary by state, but commonly range from $0 to $15 per bureau. For Maine residents is should be free, $5 for Massachusetts residents, and $10 as a resident of New Hampshire. You can sometimes get this service for free if you supply a copy of a police report (which you can file and obtain online) or affidavit stating that you believe you are likely to be the victim of identity theft. Note freezing your credit files has no impact on your existing lines of credit such as credit cards, lines of credit; you can continue to use them regularly when your credit is frozen.
But – if your credit reports are accessed often for work, or you regularly create new accounts with different institutions then you probably don’t want to freeze your accounts as the time and costs to regularly thaw your credit reports could be excessive.
Directions to freeze your credit follow:
EQUIFAX CREDIT FREEZE – (www.freeze.equifax.com)
- Credit freezes may be done online or by certified mail – return receipt requested.
- If your PIN is late arriving, call 1-888-298-0045. They will ask you for some ID and arrange for your PIN to be sent to you in 4-7 days.
- Unfreeze: Do a temporary thaw of your Equifax credit freeze by snail mail, online or by calling 1-800-685-1111.
- If requesting a freeze by mail, use the following address: Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA. 30348.
EXPERIAN CREDIT FREEZE – (www.experian.com/freeze/center)
- Credit freezes may be done online; by certified mail – return receipt requested; or by calling 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742). When calling, press 2 then follow prompts for security freeze.
- Request your credit freeze by certified mail using this sample letter. Please note the attachments you must include.
- Unfreeze: Do a temporary thaw of your Experian credit freeze online or by calling 1-888-397-3742.
- If requesting a freeze by mail, use the following address: Experian, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX. 75013.
TRANSUNION CREDIT FREEZE – (www.freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp)
- Credit freezes may be done online, by phone (1-888-909-8872) or by certified mail – return receipt requested. (Some users have reported difficulty with the online method. Please try one of the other options if you too experience difficulty.)
- Unfreeze: Do a temporary thaw of your TransUnion credit freeze online or by calling 1-888-909-8872.
- If requesting a freeze by mail, use the following address: TransUnion Protected Consumer Freeze, P.O. Box 380, Woodlyn, PA. 19094.