The recent Equifax breach affects 143 million consumers in the United States. This makes it very likely that you are affected and if so, your entire credit history could now be in the hands of identity thieves. This includes details like your name and Social Security Number, past addresses, and your current and past credit accounts, and much more--pretty much everything needed to begin opening new credit lines in your name using your information, and perhaps even stealing your identity.
Because this breach was the result of a computer hack, several of our customers have asked if it is something they should worry about and if so, what they should do about it. The latter is a tough question for us. We are not financial advisors, nor are we lawyers. We provide computer management, computer security, and end-user security training services to small- and medium-sized businesses. Our customers look to us for help in preventing security breaches and malware and sometimes help in cleaning up after them. It is in that vein we’ve been scouring the Internet in search of practical information we could pass along. The bulk of what follows is adapted from a very thorough Reddit post (and the messages in reply to it) we found here. The language is a little rough for polite company, but the shock of a bad word or two (or fifty-seven) should pale in comparison to the shock of this security breach. It is well worth the read.
What can you do to protect yourself?
1. Obtain your current credit history as a baseline for comparison for the future as soon as possible. You can do this at https://www.annualcreditreport.com, the only website fully authorized by the United States government for this purpose. You can pull your full credit report from all three credit reporting agencies once per year for free from this website. Other websites claim to provide the same service, but keep in mind that while these services may not charge you a fee, someone is paying them to provide the service. Also, please note that as of this writing, the AnnualCreditReport.com website is being inundated with credit report requests. You might have to wait a few days before you can get through to retrieve yours.
2. Although it will take a couple weeks to reach you, request your LexisNexis Full File Disclosure. (See instructions here. ) This report will tell you everything LexisNexis has on file for you, including credit, mortgages, car insurance, driving record, address history, and much more, and it is completely free.
3. Freeze your credit as soon as possible. (But don’t do this until AFTER you’ve pulled your credit reports!) Freezing your credit means that nobody, including you, can make inquiries against your credit for any reason. Do this for all three credit agencies. This will not affect any currently open credit lines that you may have, including your mortgage, car loan, or credit cards, and it will not lower your credit score. But it should prevent anyone from starting up or even inquiring about your credit. The phone numbers to call to initiate or find out how to initiate a credit freeze are:
Equifax (https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp.) – Both the automated phone system and the Equifax website indicate that security freezes can only be initiated by mail, however this may be dependent on state law. (See
TransUnion This page details the differences between “freezing” and “locking.” – Transunion will process a security freeze by phone for $10, but they also offer a very similar security “lock” service for free on their website through their “TrueIdentity” program.
Experian https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html.) – (See
4. Place a security freeze on your ChexSystems consumer report. This report shows checking/savings accounts closed with money owed, as well as payday loans, and requests for payday loans. With the rise of online banking, if a thief has enough of your personal info—and after this breach they absolutely do—they can open a checking account in your name, have a loan deposited into that account, overdraw the account, and stick you with the bill.
Some words of caution about freezing your credit:
- Remember to wait until after you’ve pulled your credit reports before placing any credit freezes.
- During the process you will either create or receive a PIN that will be required to unfreeze your credit. TransUnion allows you to set your own PIN, Experian sends it in the mail, and Equifax sets it for you and gives it to you over the phone after your credit freeze is initiated. Do not hang up until you have it written down! You can replay the message over and over if necessary.
- You must un-freeze your credit to initiate any new credit inquiries for yourself. Unfreezing your credit may incur a fee—typically around $10—at each of the three agencies. This means you must plan to un-freeze your credit if you are thinking about using it, but the cost is minimal compared to the 3 to 4 years of the life-altering consequences that result from having your identity stolen.
If you choose not to freeze your credit, then at the very least consider initiating a Fraud Alert for yourself by following the steps at this Federal Trade Commission website. The website contains a lot more information on extended fraud alerts and credit freezes.
Finally, consider opting out of pre-screened credit offers at 1-888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or by following the directions found here.
Please don’t take the chance that maybe they didn’t get your information, or that maybe they won’t use it. Protect yourself and your future. Take steps to prevent thieves from stealing your identity!