Who is Equifax, and why are they in the news? Equifax is one of the leading consumer credit reporting agencies. Earlier this month, they announced a major loss of data.
Hackers gaining access to Equifax data have left 143 million consumers vulnerable to identify theft and credit fraud. It’s hard to believe, but with this data they can open up new lines of credit, potentially move money in existing accounts and commit many other criminal acts.
What should you do?
First of all, this information should not cause you to panic. There’s no need for that. But we do hope it causes you to take prudent action to protect yourself. Here are 9 steps that will help protect you.
1. Check to see if you have been exposed.
Visit Equifax’s website, equifaxsecurity2017.com. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab. Be sure you use a trusted computer and a secure network when entering any information on websites. Enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number to see if you may be at risk. Equifax is offering a year of free credit monitoring, and the link above starts the signup process. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll Equifax’s free service.
2. Check with your employer.
Some employers are offering to help their employees to take protective steps and are providing credit monitoring services.
3. Get your credit report.
Equifax, Experian and TransUnion each offer one free credit report per person, per year. Encourage your spouse or significant other also to take this step. Contact:
4. Consider placing a security freeze on your credit file.
You’ll need to do this at all three credit reporting agencies. According to the Federal Trade Commission, a security freeze restricts access to your credit report, which creditors generally need to see before approving a new account. The freeze won’t affect your credit score, and it can be lifted later on if you are applying for credit, buying insurance, etc.
However, the service can cost up to $10, depending on the state. It also can cost a fee to stop a security freeze. Equifax has said it would waive fees on security freezes for the next 30 days. It’s unclear whether Equifax will impose a fee to unfreeze a credit file. Either way, consider those fees a small price to pay for added protection.
Freezing your credit is a wise safety precaution until other methods can be identified to protect your credit. In fact, Larry, Bianca and I are in the process of doing it ourselves. We are each reaching out to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion individually to request a security freeze.
5. Consider placing a fraud alert on your files.
This is an alternative to a security freeze. Whereas a security freeze locks down your credit, a fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report — but only after they take steps to verify your identity. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and to verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you. Initial fraud alerts last 90 days. Those in the military on active duty can receive fraud alerts for a year. Again, make the request with all three credit-reporting agencies.
6. Check your existing accounts.
Monitor your existing bank account, credit cards and insurance statements for fraudulent items — even small transactions that seem inconsequential. Criminals will sometimes make a small transaction on a hacked account just to see if it’s active before committing more extensive fraud.
Many financial services providers make it easy to follow account activity. Some can notify you by email or by text message, for example, any time there’s a transaction. Check to see what is available. And check all statements monthly.
7. Change your passwords.
Experts advise making passwords as complex as possible. And whenever possible, sign up for double authentication. This is where the bank might require a code they text to your mobile phone in order to access the account.
8. Plan to file your 2017 taxes early.
File them as soon as you have the tax information needed. This prevents a thief from filing as you and claiming a tax refund that may be available.
9. Be suspicious of emails and phone calls.
Be wary of emails that purport to come from Equifax. Be suspicious of anyone calling you who seems to have knowledge of your affairs. Hang up, in fact. As Larry has pointed out before, the IRS never telephones to demand money or confirm account numbers and passwords. Equifax won’t either. Nor will any credible financial institution.
If you think there has been a breach into your accounts or your identity has been stolen, contact IdentifyTheft.gov for help.
Be prepared to be patient. Equifax, Trans Union and Experian are being overwhelmed by consumer inquires. Their websites are all moving slowly and their customer service lines have long wait times. Don’t stop trying, a little perseverance now could save you a lot of pain later.
We’re doing all we can to monitor our clients’ investment accounts and minimize the possibility of their being victims of illegal activity. If you are a client of ours, please call or stop by the office. We’re here to answer all your questions.