In between Irma and Harvey updates, we’ve all heard of another “hurricane” where a Equifax, a major consumer credit reporting agency, had a security breach. Hackers were able to retrieve names, birth dates and addresses, credit card numbers and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers for 143 million of us.
While we have previously included the recommendation in your PlanMap check list to consider freezing your credit as well as how to monitor your credit reports, now we are elevating this recommendation to “high alert”, regardless of whether your information was compromised or not.
You need to request this freeze individually at each of the four major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion and Innovis. This will prevent thieves from applying for credit in your name using information they stole. [And another issue is that they could also use your data to file an early tax return to steal your refund. More on that later.]
While the credit freeze is likely the best solution, it works best when you do not plan to use credit. The freeze is simple to set up but not so simple to remove. It's not a reason to not freeze the credit, but be aware that you may or will be subject to credit reports sometimes when getting a new cell phone contract, changing utility companies (e.g., after a move), applying for a job, opening a mySSA.gov account, etc.
Be sure to alert your spouse/significant other/financial partner that you are initiating a credit freeze so that there are no surprises! Of course you can unfreeze and re-freeze, but there will be a delay and a cost.
To enhance your data security, follow these steps:
Step 1: Visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to find out if your data was exposed.
Step 2: Go to each credit bureau’s website using the links below and freeze your credit. [For an ID theft victim in Maryland, it’s free to freeze and unfreeze your accounts; for all others it is a $5 fee to freeze and another $5 to unfreeze. Residents of other states might pay more.] Equifax waives a fee to freeze until November 21 and would refund any fees that you might have paid since September 7.
Follow these steps for each member of your household.
Step 3: Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
Step 4: Continue monitoring your 3 credit bureau reports (obtain your free report each 4 months by rotating among the 3 companies) through this URL.
Step 5: An optional step is to also set up fraud alerts. For Equifax, you can set up an alert for 90 days (and longer if you have been a victim previously of identity theft).
More information about credit freezes can be found in this Federal trade commission Consumer Information article.
And for more information about the Equifax security breach, we found these articles to be very interesting:
The New York Times "Equifax Says Cyberattack May Have Affected 143 Million in the U.S."
The New York Times "Equifax's Instuctions are Confusing. Here's What to Do Now".
This last article goes into more detail about steps to take to protect yourself with the credit freeze.
One additional note is that initial reports in the press suggested that signing up for the services at Equifax resulted in a consumer giving up their future rights to sue (rather than use arbitration) to obtain compensation for damages due to the data breach. Equifax has subsequently clarified that the arbitration clause will not apply in this case – so you are not giving up future rights to sue for damages. They now clearly state this on their website.