By now you are all aware of the data breach at Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus. There had been conflicting information on Equifax’s response in the first few days after the breach was reported, but there is some clarity now on what you can expect and what you should do.
It is very possible that your information has been exposed. Visit https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/ to find out.
One very good option for you to consider is freezing your credit. This locks your credit file, and the only way into your file is with a PIN that only you know.
Credit bureaus tend to recommend credit monitoring over credit freeze, because a freeze so severely limits access to your information. But all credit monitoring does is tell you after the fact that your credit file has been accessed. Credit monitoring does not protect against identity theft.
A security freeze gives you complete control and can stop identity theft from happening in the first place.
To set up a security freeze you’ll have to contact all three of the credit bureaus individually. You can do it online or over the phone. You will be asked some questions to confirm your identity, but it shouldn’t take too long.
Equifax is, unsurprisingly, overwhelmed right now, so it could take a while to get through to them. Their website is also experiencing problems off and on. Their website does appear to have removed legal language regarding waiving your right to sue by using the site. *If you have already frozen your credit at Equifax, you should change your PIN; the ones they initially created were weak.
A few states’ attorneys general are talking about suing the company, including the Illinois Attorney General.
Meanwhile, Equifax is temporarily offering to freeze credit free of charge, if you do so within the next two months. (If you already have, they have offered to refund the fee.)
Depending on your state, freezing your credit can cost anywhere from $0 to $10 at the other bureaus. Currently in Illinois, unless you are over 65, an identity theft victim with a police report, or an active duty service member, you will be charged $10 to place the freeze with Experian and TransUnion.
Things you should be doing to protect yourself
It’s good practice to keep a constant, vigilant eye on your credit and personal information at all times.
We recommend that you regularly:
- Check credit reports. By Federal Law, you are entitled to one free report every year, from each bureau, from this site: AnnualCreditReport. You can get a free credit report as often as once every four months simply by requesting one at a time from each.
- Review every bank statement. Keep track of checks written, automatic withdrawals, ATM withdrawals, and transfers between accounts. If anything doesn’t seem right, contact your bank.
- Put fraud alerts on you credit cards if you spot anything unusual on your statement. These are free and are good for 90 days.
- File tax returns as early as possible to try to prevent fraudulent filings. Data breaches like these are one of the main ways con artists get the information they need to pull off tax identity theft.
Also be aware of the following scams that may arise in the wake of this breach:
- Imposter scams. Con artists may pose as representatives of Equifax and call or email you to “verify your information.” Because they now have your personal information, it might seem legitimate at first. As a rule, do not ever offer up personal information to anyone, at any time, who calls YOU.
- Similarly, sophisticated email scammers will use your real data — data compromised in the breach — to mimic legitimate communication from your bank, etc. Ignore instructions to click on a link or open a PDF file because you need to “check your account” or “verify a transaction.” You could be downloading malicious software that would allow them to hijack your system or record your keystrokes. It is best to assume the worst and instead visit your bank’s or credit card’s website directly (not via a link in an email) or call their 800-number.
Given the volume of breaches over in the last few years, there is a good chance your information has been exposed somewhere. Taking these steps will help give you peace of mind and protect your identity from hackers and thieves.
If you have other questions or we can help in some way, please give us a call.