The Equifax Breach and How to Protect Yourself
September 13, 2017
By now, you have probably heard of the massive data breach at Equifax, one of the three main credit reporting bureaus. This attack may have exposed the personal information of 143 million consumers, representing almost one half of the U.S. population.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports:
“Here are the facts according to Equifax. The breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. And they grabbed personal information of people in the UK and Canada too.”
As horrifying as this is, there are steps you can take to both check to see if your information was compromised and to keep yourself as safe as is possible. Unfortunately, at this time, safety is a relative term.
- Visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com or call 866-447-7559. (This link takes you away from the FTC site. Equifaxsecurity2017.com is not controlled by the FTC.)
- Find out if your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
- Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services. Foremost Advice from Broadridge Forefield reports that Equifax's "TrustedID Premier" service includes monitoring reports generated by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion; the ability to lock and unlock Equifax credit reports with a credit freeze; identity theft insurance and Social Security number monitoring. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.
- Equifax announced on September 12, 2017 that they will be waiving their Credit Freeze fees for 30 days after massive pressure from the public and the media.
- You also can access frequently asked questions at the site.
Here are some other steps to take to help protect yourself after a data breach:
- Check all your bank accounts to see if they offer two factor authentication, also known as 2FA.
According to Wikipedia, Two-factor authentication is a method of confirming a user's claimed identity by utilizing a combination of two different individual steps.
A good example from everyday life is the withdrawing of money from a cash machine; only the correct combination of:
1) a bank card (something that the user possesses) and
2) a PIN (personal identification number, something that the user knows) that allows the transaction to be carried out.
When setting up two-factor authentication with a bank they will usually send you an email, text or phone message providing a one time code which you must enter in order to be granted access to your account(s).
Be sure that the security questions for your accounts on the accounts are difficult to guess (i.e. a simple question mark or phrase provides little protections).
- Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion by visiting annualcreditreport.com or calling 877-322-8228. You can obtain 1 report free per year. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do. You should also check to see if any of your children has a credit report and do a credit check on any child who does have one. Each credit reporting bureau has specific instructions for accessing this information.
- Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
- Consider placing a credit freeze on your files and those of your children. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
NBC News further suggests that this step be taken with great care. However, if you plan to make a large purchase in the near future, this may not be the best action. You must remember to ‘thaw’ your account before the credit check is done. There is usually a fee to impose a credit freeze. TransUnion has a grid showing the various levels by state and consumer criteria - https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/credit-freeze-information-by-state.
- If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files with all 3 major credit reporting companies, your credit and your debit cards. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you. Each credit company will have a fraud department, usually accessible under the account management feature. You can also call the companies directly and ask for this service.
- Watch your mail for anything suspicious. Check your bank accounts at least weekly for signs of fraud. Pay close attention when applying for a loan or a government benefit for signs that someone else might be using your Social Security number. Get your annual Social Security benefits statement online and look for anything unusual.
- File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
Visit Identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach. You can also get more information of identity theft involving children at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0040-child-identity-theft.
Consider signing up for a credit/ fraud monitoring service such as LifeLock which can also help protect against fraud.
Please give SFSG a call at 732-739-8991 if you have further concerns or questions.