The Equifax Data Breach – What You Need to Know

Asian business man writing Data Breach on wallOn September 7, news spread quickly that one of the nation’s three major credit bureaus experienced one of the largest security data breaches so far this year. It is estimated that nearly 143 million American consumers, as well as an unknown number of Canadians and residents of the UK, were affected by the cyber security attack. Although the compromise took place between May and June of this year, it was only discovered by Equifax on July 29 and shared with the public over one month later.

The scope of the Equifax breach is massive, not simply because of the number of consumers affected but also given the sensitive nature of the data taken. Personal identifying details including social security numbers, dates of birth, home addresses, and driver’s license numbers were captured by the cyber criminals; more than 200,000 individuals involved in active credit report disputes also had credit card information exposed. As a credit reporting agency, Equifax manages countless points of the data on consumers to aggregate information included on one’s credit report, along with Experian and TransUnion. Because of the company’s business, many American consumers may be unaware that they are a customer of Equifax – and that their information was compromised in the July breach.

Although Equifax stated that the customers affected by the credit card breach would be contacted by mail, many consumers are fearful that their information was stolen and may be used to open fraudulent accounts. Here’s what you should do to see if you were involved in the data compromise, and what you can do to protect your information moving forward.

Are You Affected?

Due to the size of the breach, Equifax quickly established a website consumers are encouraged to visit to check if their personal details were taken in the data breach. Individuals can enter their last name and last six digits of their social security number to find out if they are part of the compromised half of the country. Additionally, consumers may contact Equifax directly at 1-866-447-7559. Equifax is sending direct mail to affected individuals as well, but it could take some time for that information to reach the company’s customers.

If it is confirmed that an individual’s personal information was impacted by the security breach, Equifax is provided free credit monitoring and identity theft protection through a simple online enrollment in TrustedID Premier. This service offers consumers the following:

  • Copies of their Equifax credit reports
  • Credit file monitoring with the three major bureaus, including alerts when changes are made
  • Equifax credit report lock
  • Ongoing social security number monitoring
  • Up to $1 million in identity theft insurance which covers out-of-pocket expenses should identity theft occur

Each of these services is available through TrustedID Premier as soon as enrollment is confirmed (immediately on the site), and they are in place for one year.

Some consumers balked at the identity theft protection offered by Equifax because it initially forced them to commit to binding arbitration, meaning no lawsuit could be brought against the credit monitor in the future. With the help of millions of consumer complaints, the Equifax removed the arbitration commitment from its website, stating the caveat would not apply to this specific cyber security event.

Taking the Extra Step

While the free credit monitoring and identity theft protection from Equifax are helpful in the fight against personal information being used fraudulently, consumers can take it one step further. Individuals, whether affected by the breach or not, can receive a copy of their credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies at no cost, one per year. Checking a credit report is a smart way to identify accounts that are fraudulent, credit inquiries that were not initiated by the consumer, and other suspicious activity.

In addition to checking credit reports as often as possible, paying close attention to credit card statements and bank accounts is important now and well into the future. Unauthorized charges are much easier to identify and correct when they are spotted quickly, and affected credit cards or bank accounts can be closed to prevent further theft.

Finally, placing a credit freeze on credit reports is incredibly helpful for affected consumers. A credit freeze effectively shuts down access to one’s credit information, leaving identity thieves less capable of establishing a new account with a person’s social security number, date of birth, or other sensitive information. When a new account is applied for, the credit is unable to verify the applicant’s credit report because of the freeze, and the account cannot be established.

Theft of personal information is not uncommon in today’s hyper-connected environment, but the data breach that affected Equifax has the potential to harm more consumers than any compromise in the past. Individuals should check with Equifax to see if their information was affected, and follow the steps above to safeguard themselves from identity theft and fraud moving forward.

Posted on September 11, 2017 by in Credit Monitoring

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