Equifax Data Breach Tips
On September 7, 2017 Equifax, a credit reporting company, announced a major data breach affecting 143 million Americans. According to the company, the data breach left names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers and other sensitive information at risk sometime between mid-May and July of this summer.
Depending on your personal situation, you can choose to implement a fraud alert or security freeze with each of the three credit bureaus to protect your personal information.
A credit freeze is designed to prevent credit, loans and services from being approved in your name without your consent, but may also delay or interfere with or prohibit the timely approval of any subsequent requests or application you make regarding new credit, loans or services.
To place a credit freeze, contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies:
- Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
- Experian — 1 888 397 3742
- TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
You'll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. Fees charged by the credit reporting agencies vary based on where you live, but commonly range from $5 to $10.
After receiving your freeze request, each credit reporting company will send you a confirmation letter containing a unique PIN or password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you choose to lift the freeze.
A fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report as long as they take steps to verify your identity. For example, if you provide a telephone number in the fraud alert, the business must call you to verify whether you are the person making the credit request. Fraud alerts may be effective at stopping someone from opening new credit accounts in your name, but they may not prevent the misuse of your existing accounts. You still need to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.
To place a fraud alert on your credit reports, contact one of the “big-three” U.S. credit reporting companies. A fraud alert is free. The company you call must tell the other credit reporting companies; they, in turn, will place an alert on their versions of your report.
Steps to protect yourself
Following any breach, everyone can better protect their accounts by following these steps to stay safer and more secure, including:
- Check your credit reports and monitor activity on your financial and credit card accounts. You can check your credit reports for free by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
- Lock down your login
- Use strong authentication — more than a username and password to access online accounts — to protect your most valuable accounts, including financial, email and social media. This means utilizing two-factor authentication (something you know and something you have), if available.
- Keep clean machines
- Prevent infections by updating critical software as soon as patches or new operating system versions are available. This includes mobile and other internet-connected devices.
- When in doubt, throw it out
- Fraudsters and others have been known to use data breaches and other incidents to send out emails and posts related to the incident to lure people into providing their information. Delete any suspicious emails or posts, and get information only from legitimate sources.
- Beware of scams from individuals posing as Equifax – they will not contact you.
- File your taxes early
- As soon as you have the tax information you need, before a fraudster can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
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