Last week, Equifax announced a data breach, affecting nearly half of Americans—143 million people. Per Equifax, information stolen includes names, social security numbers, dates of birth, contact information, and, in some cases, credit card numbers. Obviously, this is very concerning—but how do you best protect yourself and your family?
There are a few options to consider:
First and foremost, check to see if you’re impacted:
Go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. Click “Potential Impact” then “Check Potential Impact.” You’ll be asked to enter basic information. Upon submitting, you’ll immediately be told whether you are affected.
Remember to check for your spouse and your children as well—minors are at risk too.
If affected, at minimum, monitor your credit card and bank account activity closely and watch for phishing emails. Be very hesitant to open any emails that seem “off.” This hack opens the door for more scammers to come in. Also, check your free credit reports. You’re allowed one free report per year from each of the credit bureaus.
The information accessed in the breach could potentially allow someone to attempt to log into one of your accounts online. For more information on boosting your online security, visit Fidelity's Data Security Page.
Consider enrolling in Equifax’s TrustedID Premier Service:
Equifax is offering this service for free for one year to any consumer affected. While there was (warranted) concern initially as to whether to enroll in this service (which initially waived your right to take legal action), those concerns have been resolved.
If you already have credit monitoring through another agency, you may consider enrolling in this as well. It offers additional protections such as identify theft insurance.
Equifax is offering free enrollment through November 21, 2017.
Note that credit monitoring does not protect you—it notifies you of activity. Which means, you could still be at risk. A higher degree of protection can be achieved with a credit freeze, which prevents creditors from accessing your credit report. Thus, if applying for credit from a new company, you’d have to have the freeze lifted. While a bit of a headache, it appears this provides the best protection—particularly if you won’t be seeking credit in the near future.
If going this route, it’s recommended to freeze with all of the bureaus. There is generally a cost to initiate a freeze. In the state of Tennessee, this will cost you $7.50 per bureau. If you live elsewhere, you can check your state’s fees here.
As a part of the Equifax TrustedID premier service, consumers have the ability to freeze their credit report for free.
You can initiate a freeze with any bureau online, but there have been complaints that online requests are difficult—likely in part due to high volume as of late. Additionally, experts say calling is the safest way to initiate a freeze.
- Equifax: 1-800-349-9960
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872
- Innovis (the smallest bureau): 1-800-540-2505
You’ll receive a pin from each bureau upon freezing your report. You then provide the pin when you want to lift the freeze, which takes approximately three days.
This type of alert tells prospective creditors to take additional steps to verify the identify of someone requesting credit using your social security number.
For this type of alert, you only have to contact one of the bureaus—they will notify the others
If you don’t want to go through the steps for a credit freeze, this is an option. But it only lasts for 90 days and is not as fool-proof.
First, check to see if you’re affected. If you are, be vigilant—check your statements as well as your credit reports regularly to monitor activity. Also consider enrolling in Equifax’s free service for one year and evaluate whether a credit freeze or fraud alert may be best for you and your family.
How far you go to protect your family will depend upon your risk tolerance. Consider which option will give you the most peace of mind, think through the pros and cons, and then act. Remember, enrollment in the Equifax free service is open through November 21.
Lastly, watch the headlines. Information concerning this breach is updated daily. Watch for impactful facts that may further guide you as to how to protect yourself and your family.