Last week Equifax announced that up to 143 million people may have had their information compromised in a hack on their website due to an unpatched application. A security review found unauthorized access that occurred from mid May to the end of July, when the security breach was discovered.
Personal information that was accessed included everything from names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and even driver license numbers. Some 200,000 consumers also had credit card numbers stolen, and 182,000 had certain dispute documents with “personal identifying information” stolen.
While Equifax’s hacking may not have been the biggest of all time, it is very likely the most damaging. In recent years, we have been accustomed to hearing about businesses like Target, Home Depot, Michaels, and Sony’s Playstation Network being targeted by hackers and having their customers’ data stolen.
What is different about Equifax’s announcement is that with the other businesses, all you needed to do was get a new credit card or debit card number and put that behind you. In the worst-case scenario, you would have found fraudulent charges made to your credit card or debit card, which your bank or credit card company would have reimbursed.
Equifax, being one of the three major credit-reporting agencies, had access to data that when in the hands of criminals, would allow them to steal your identity. This means they will be able to pretend they are you and sign up for credit cards, set up bank accounts, apply for loans, sign up for services, and more. This is possible because Equifax has your entire credit history in their databases, and their databases are used to verify your identity when you sign up for many financial services.
Were You Affected By The Equifax Hack?
If you are an American who has ever applied for a credit card, mortgage, car loan, personal loan, bank account, signed up for postpaid cell phone service, electric, gas, water, or internet service, or tried to rent an apartment or house, then yes, you are likely affected by this.
Without knowing exactly what was accessed by the hackers and Equifax announcing that the hack potentially impacts up to 143 million consumers or 44% of the United States population, it would be prudent to assume you are in this group.
What Happens Now?
Think of you being entered into a giant lottery. Only this is a lottery that you do not want to win. Ever. If selected, instead of winning millions of dollars, you will have to deal with getting police reports, closing accounts, and dealing with creditors calling you asking you to pay back loans you had no idea about. Your credit rating will likely get torpedoed, and anything that requires credit, from getting a mortgage, or financing a car loan, or even renting an apartment will be much more difficult. There is no telling how long this will go on since your identity will be traded and sold for years into the future.
The only saving grace of this hack is the sheer size of it. With 143 million people in the pool, identity thieves have many, many potential victims to choose from. The chances of your information getting picked would seem pretty small.
How To Find Out If Your Information Was Exposed
Equifax has set up a website at EquifaxSecurity2017.com to help consumers find out if their information was accessed. You can also access that website by going to Equifax.com and clicking the big orange button.
Once at that website, you can enter your last name and the last 6 digits of your Social Security number and instantly receive a response indicating whether your personal information was impacted.
What Equifax Is Doing For Consumers
Upon receiving the results of your inquiry at Equifax’s security breach website, Equifax will also provide you an option to enroll in their TrustedID Premier service. This is a one-year complimentary subscription for free credit file monitoring with the three major credit bureaus, identity theft protection, and identity theft insurance. You can sign up for this service whether your personal information was impacted or not.
Equifax has stated they will not be requesting consumer’s credit card information if they choose to enroll in their TrustedID Premier service. The subscription service will also not be automatically renewed at the conclusion of the complimentary year of membership.
You have until the end of the enrollment period on Tuesday, November 21, 2017 to sign up for the TrustedID Premier service if you choose to do so.
In my opinion, the one year of TrustedID Premier sounds nice but keep in mind the data that was stolen, such as your Social Security number, is with you for your entire life. While we can assume criminals aren’t too smart, with the amount of news coverage of the hacking has received, the bad guys can wait a year until the free complimentary credit monitoring subscription is over. Then they can use the data acquired from this incident for decades into the future.
What Else Can You Do To Protect Yourself
If you are concern about your credit, you will need to actively keep an eye on your credit long-term. Here is what you can do next:
1a) Get a free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.
There are many other sites online that say they offer free credit reports, but AnnualCreditReport.com is the only official source to receive a free credit report. Other sites will try to sell you additional products and services that you may or may not want, such as your credit score, which is only important to know if you are applying for loans or credit.
Your credit report is different in that it shows what the credit agencies have on your credit file. This includes any credit cards and lines of credit that are open, any loans, and any recent credit and loan applications. Federal law requires Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to provide you a free credit report every 12 months.
When you request your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, you have the option to pick the reports from any agency. You can choose to request your report from all three credit agencies at once or just from one or two.
Since you are limited to one report from each company every 12 months, you might want to consider requesting one from each company staggered over 4 months.
1b) Sign up for Credit Karma
Credit Karma will provide you with your full TransUnion credit report for free. They are able to provide this service by providing recommendations for products based on your credit profile in exchange for a commission if you choose to sign up for those products.
2) Monitor your credit report
Credit monitoring is available if you choose to sign up for Equifax’s complimentary TrustedID Premier service or Credit Karma. Keep in mind that if you want long-term protection, TrustedID Premier is only free the first year. Credit Karma provides free credit monitoring of your TransUnion credit report.
If you are a Capital One credit card customer, I’ve found that their free CreditWise credit monitoring service is really awesome. If you are not a Capital One cardholder, you can still sign up for a free CreditWise account. When I was car shopping, CreditWise emailed me a notification the dealer had run a credit inquiry on my TransUnion credit history within minutes of it happening.
By actively monitoring your credit report, you will be notified if someone is attempting to apply for credit without your knowledge rather than find out when you request your free credit report every 12 months.
3) Freeze your credit at all three credit bureaus (optional)
If you do not need to apply for credit in the near future, the best way to protect yourself is to freeze your credit. A credit freeze will block any inquiries on your credit. Nobody will be able to access your credit while it is frozen. You will be given a PIN to unlock your credit before a lender can access your credit information.
The cost to lock your information is about $3 to $10 per freeze at each of the three bureaus. The costs vary per state, although some states do not charge a fee. Equifax is currently waiving their fee at this time.
You will also need to pay a fee in the future when you wish to unlock your information. If you know which credit reporting agency your lender or service uses, you can unlock just that one, otherwise, you will have to unlock all three.
You will need to contact all three credit agencies individually to put a freeze on your credit.
Related: How to freeze your credit for free at the credit agencies
Freezing your credit will have no effect on your existing relationships that already have access to your credit information nor will it affect your ability to check your credit report.