What’s the saying? If you aren’t concerned, you haven’t been paying attention. For many people, securing their personal information has become a major concern. Think Target Stores, Home Depot, Yahoo, JP Morgan Chase. The Equifax data breach affecting some 143 million people is only one example.
Check with Equifax on Your Exposure
Large-scale data breaches only confirm the fact that information truly is power. It’s power for scammers and identity thieves who steal personal information, but it’s also power for you to protect yourself.
Before anything else — even if you aren’t an Equifax customer — check to see if your personal information was included in the Equifax data breach. Equifax has created a Check Potential Impact tool on their website for this purpose.
Armed with this information, you can plan your next steps.
Review Your Credit Reports
Credit reports are another source of important information. They are statements that detail your credit activity and the current condition of your credit. As such, credit reports provide the information lenders and potential lenders use when making credit decisions and establishing interest rates. They’re also the basis for calculating your credit score. That means ensuring their accuracy is vital.
By law and upon request, you’re entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major (nationwide) credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can get all three at no charge from the website AnnualCreditReport.com.
When you receive your credit reports, review your personal information and credit information carefully for accuracy, checking for both incorrect and missing information. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website includes more information on what to look for in your credit report.
Accept Equifax’s Offer of Free Credit Monitoring and Identity Theft Protection
Whether or not your information was compromised, Equifax extends a free year of their Trusted ID Premier product, which includes credit file and Social Security number monitoring, identity theft protection and up to $1,000,000 in identity theft insurance.
Signing up is optional, of course. But here’s what you should know:
You will not be automatically enrolled in (or charged for) TrustedID Premier after the first complimentary year expires. Although you have the option to continue with this service, you’re not automatically charged and you do not have to provide a credit card.
The company’s arbitration and class-action waiver clauses do not apply to this data breach, including its complimentary TrustedID Premier offering.
Note that Equifax is not the only company that offers credit monitoring and identity theft protection services.
Freeze Access to Your Credit
Consider placing a security freeze on your credit file, an action which is intended to prevent scammers and identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. By placing a freeze, you preclude lenders, potential lenders and, depending on state law, others like landlords and employers from accessing your credit report.
A security freeze lasts until you specifically opt to end it by unfreezing your credit file.
The Equifax security freeze is one of the features of its TrustedID Premier product. Currently, Equifax claims that you will not be charged for placing or removing security freezes on your personal information through November 21, 2017. Equifax will provide you with a PIN for this purpose.
Note that there have been reported issues and delays with the freeze and PIN provisions from Equifax. Equifax is supposedly updating the website and adding resources to address these problems.
Request a Fraud Alert
Consider requesting a free fraud alert with any one of the three major credit reporting bureaus. They share fraud alerts, so more than one is not necessary.
Unlike a freeze, a fraud alert doesn’t preclude access to your credit report, but it does require the credit reporting bureau to verify your identity first. Typically, a fraud alert automatically expires after 90 days — longer for certain victims of identity theft.
For More Information
The Federal Trade Commission has published The Equifax Data Breach: What to Do, which contains information about this breach, as well as more general information about steps you can take to protect yourself after a data breach.
Information on the Equifax data breach and the steps you should take in response continue to evolve as new details emerge.
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