How The Equifax Breach Affects You
By now, many of you have heard of the Equifax breach and may be one of the estimated 143 million American consumers, or roughly 55% of Americans age 18 and older whose vital personal identification information was exposed. According to Equifax, the breach lasted from mid-May through July and hackers accessed people’s names, SSNs, dates of birth, addresses, and driver’s license numbers. Equifax has faced widespread criticism following its delayed disclosure of the hack, both for the breach itself and for its response. Has my information been leaked? Equifax has set up a website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, where consumers can check if they've been affected by the breach. Once on the site using a secure computer and encrypted network, click on the button "Potential Impact" at the bottom of the main page and then click on "Check Potential Impact," where you will be asked to provide your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Equifax has stated that regardless of whether your information may have been affected, everyone has the option to sign up on the website for one free year of credit monitoring and identity theft protection. You can do so by clicking the "Enroll" button at the bottom of the screen and go through an enrollment process. It was previously understood that enrolling in the free year of credit protection meant that consumers gave up the right to join any class-action lawsuit against Equifax and agreed to be bound by arbitration. An Equifax spokesperson has since stated that the binding arbitration clause related only to the one year of free credit monitoring and not the breach itself; Equifax has since removed that language from its site What steps can I take to protect myself? This breach has far reaching implications and we highly recommend that you monitor your own personal information and be vigilant against identity theft. Below is a sample of best practices:
Fraud alerts: Your first step should be to establish free 90-day fraud alerts with the three major credit reporting agencies and your credit and debit cards. You will then be alerted if someone tries to establish credit in your name. Though the fraud alerts are only good for 90 days, you will have the option to do another fraud alert upon the completion of the 90 days. It’s best to confirm with the agency you requested whether they will notify the other credit reporting companies of your fraud alert request.
Credit freezes: A credit freeze will lock your credit so that only companies you already do business with will have access to them. Thus, if a scammer at a distant bank tries to apply for credit in your name using your address and Social Security number, the bank won't be able to access your credit report. A credit freeze won't prevent a scammer from making changes to your existing accounts however. Equifax announced that it would waive all fees for the next 30 days for credit freezes starting September 12. If you want to apply for credit with a new financial institution in the future, or you are opening a new bank account, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance, you will need to unlock or "thaw" the credit freeze.