You probably already heard in the news that Equifax was breached. Hackers exploited a security hole in the website application and then stole personal data from an estimated 143 million Americans.
Equifax is one of the big three credit reporting bureaus alongside Experian and TransUnion. They work with companies, banks, retailers, landlords, and lenders to retrieve the credit history of the organization’s customers. For example, if any of their customers are applying for a mortgage, the bank will run a credit check with one of the bureaus to determine if they are financially able to pay back their loans.
What personal data does Equifax collect to conduct credit checks?
- Social security numbers
- Birth dates
- Driver licenses
- Credit card numbers
What can identity thieves do with personally identifiable data?
- Apply for credit cards and mortgages
- Receive medical care
- Collect your tax refund
- Get employment
How can you protect yourself?
- Assume you are vulnerable. Equifax provided the website equifaxsecurity2017.com to check if you are vulnerable. However, users of the website stated that they’ve checked their vulnerability status on both a desktop and mobile device, then got conflicting results. You’re better off taking a more proactive stance on protecting your credit by taking the extra steps below.
- Sign up for credit monitoring. Equifax will provide a year of free credit reporting on the equifaxsecurity2017.com website, which includes a copy of the Equifax credit report, a freeze on your credit account, a scan of suspicious websites for your social security number, and up to $1 million worth of identity theft insurance. Visitors of the website reported that there was a disclaimer stating customers waive their right to participate in a class-action lawsuit if they sign up for the credit monitoring. In response, Equifax stated this right was not waived and removed the disclaimer text.
- Check your credit report with the major credit bureaus. You can visit annualcreditreport.com and check your Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reports. Look for accounts you don’t recognize and remove incorrect address listings.
- File for a credit freeze with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This prevents thieves from opening accounts in your name since the action prevents creditors from viewing your files. It costs $5-10 to freeze your accounts, depending on the credit bureau. However, this must be done after you request your credit monitoring. Also, you’ll need to unfreeze the accounts temporarily if you need to buy a car or take out a mortgage.
- Put a fraud alert on your credit account with the major credit bureaus. When the alert is activated, creditors must verify your identity before opening a new account. The alert is active for 90 days.
- Watch out for scammers trying to make a profit off the Equifax hack. In particular, watch for:
- Calls from scammers impersonating Equifax. The bureau will not give unsolicited phone calls asking people to verify their information. Hang up and go to the Equifax website to either send a message or call the listed number.
- Spear phishing emails from scammers pretending to be from a financial institution. These emails will ask recipients to click on a link or open a file to verify their accounts. Clicking on these items may download spyware or ransomware instead.
- Tax return fraud. Thieves will get victims’ names, addresses, and social security numbers to file a tax return and collect your refund check. For next year and beyond, make sure to file your tax return as soon as possible. If you find out your tax return was filed without your consent, submit a police report. Then, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
If your identity was stolen:
- Go to identitytheft.gov to file an identity theft report.
- Request to close fraudulent accounts in writing.
- Dispute any fraudulent information on your account.