FUBAR! A saying that originates from our military and aptly sums up the recent data breach at Equifax. If you don’t know what the acronym means, I suggest doing a Google search, so that I can keep this blog PG-13. I am tempted to yell every curse word in the book because my wife and I had our information compromised. From what I gather, anyone with a credit history is at risk too. Insane!
If you have been living under a rock, Equifax (EFX) has put 143 million people – 44% of the US population – in harm's way due to their inability to protect customer identities from data hackers. In other words, the odds are your personal information has been compromised. This includes your social security number, date of birth, address, and possibly even your driver’s license number. What this means to you is that the criminals who possess that information can use it to open new lines of credit or file a phony tax refund. In severe cases, the criminal will make every attempt to impersonate you as a means to access your bank accounts.
Based on my experience helping a customer through such an incident when I was a Personal Banker, I saw the consequences of ID theft secondhand, and they are painful enough that anyone affected by the data breach should take what happened very seriously. In fact, I suggest everyone with a credit history verify whether or not his/her information was impacted by the Equifax data breach. To check if your identity was compromised click here. However, knowing you were impacted is just the beginning in terms of protecting your exposed information.
If you are one of the unlucky 44%, then you should consider the following steps outlined below to protect your valuable personal information:
Enroll in a credit monitoring service, either through Equifax’s free offering (free for 1-year only) or another paid service like LifeLock. LifeLock’s plans range from $10/month - $30/month. What’s advantageous about LifeLock is their reimbursement feature. Before finalizing the Equifax offering (you should get a confirmation email within a week), be sure to opt out of the “mandatory arbitration” agreement. Doing so allows you to pursue legal action in the event your information was compromised because of Equifax. By all accounts they waived this controversial clause for those affected by the data breach according to this report, but I wanted to offer a word of caution just in case.
Equifax’s product, called TrustedID Premier, provides:
$1M in ID theft protection
Monitor your credit file with the 3 main bureaus – Equifax, Experian, & TransUnion
Copies of Equifax credit report
Credit report lock to limit third parties ability to access your credit report
Social security number monitoring
Monitor and double-check your account statements. Note, the criminals usually start with smaller transactions across many accounts. Look for anything unfamiliar and if you see suspicious activity shut down the credit card immediately.
Opt out of credit offers for 5-years or permanently. One of the many tricks by ID thieves is to intercept pre-screened credit card and insurance offers that were meant to go to you. Click this Opt-Out link or call 888-567-8688 to remove your name from these types of offerings. Personally, I signed up to have my name permanently removed. However, some of you may want to go with the 5-year option because it is more easily completed online and thus takes effect immediately. Permanent removal requires one extra step in that you have to mail the physically signed form, which is generated after electronic submission.
Freezing your credit with all 3 major credit bureaus. A credit freeze is one of the best ways for consumers to protect themselves from ID theft. Doing so costs $10 each with TransUnion and Experian and is free with Equifax. I won’t sugar coat it, going through the process of implementing a freeze with all three bureaus is a hassle. On the other hand, it is way less burdensome than having to unwind a bunch of phony credit cards. You also need to be mindful that you are required to thaw your credit whenever applying for a new job, obtaining credit, buying a house, shopping for a car, or switching your cell phone service. Therefore, it’s best to wait to freeze your credit until after any pending credit approval is completed. One last tip is to make sure you save your PIN in a secure, easy to remember place. Your PIN is necessary for temporarily unfreezing your credit.
Placing a fraud alert on your credit file with all three major credit bureaus. Alternatively, putting a fraud alert on your file is a decent backup plan if you intend to hold off from doing a credit freeze. A fraud alert requires a business to call and verify your identity before proceeding with a credit application. Typically, a fraud alert is only good for 90 days, but you can request an extension by faxing or mailing an Extended Fraud Alert Request Form with each bureau.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR FREEZING YOUR CREDIT
To unfreeze credit go online, send letter by mail, or call (800) 685-1111
Mailing address – Equifax Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348
To call about delays receiving your PIN – (888) 298-0045
To unfreeze credit go online, send letter by mail, or call (888) 397-3742
Mailing address – Experian, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
To unfreeze credit go online, send letter by mail, or call (888) 909-8872
Mailing address – TransUnion LLC, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016
If you are interested in learning more: