Information on the Equifax Data Breach and How You Can Protect Yourself

What happened:

143 million Americans had their Social security number, birth date, address, and driver’s license number stolen from Equifax.  This information can be used to open a new line of credit using your identity.

Equifax and the other credit bureaus provide your personal data to your lender when you apply for a loan.  Your lender may also provide data about your payment activities to the credit bureaus, but they already have your identify info.  CenTrust Bank does not provide information to the credit bureaus.

209,000 credit card numbers were stolen.

What is your risk:

Your two major risks are identity theft and credit card theft.

Credit Card Theft:

To protect yourself against credit card theft, look at your credit card statements closely. If you have questionable charges, contact your credit card company immediately.

Identity Theft:

You can check if you’re affected by the data theft at https://equifaxsecurity2017.com, clicking on the link will take you away from the bank’s website.  This site is okay and safe to visit.

Do not respond to emails that ask you to click on Equifax’s or some other site, most likely it is a scam.

To 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.

Be aware that there have been questions about the accuracy of Equifax’s web site, so even of it shows that your information is not affected, taking steps to protect your identity is a very good idea.

Make sure that your connection to Equifax is secure and do not do this from a public Wifi. For example, do not do this from a coffee house.

What can you do to protect yourself against identity theft?

There are three options for preventing identity theft:

  • Credit freeze – this is the most effective method and the most inconvenient
  • Fraud alert – this is less effective but also less inconvenient
  • Free credit reports – this does NOT prevent identity theft but it does give you insight and can be done in conjunction with a freeze or alert

Credit Freeze:

You may be familiar with the “big 3”, but did you know there are FOUR credit bureaus?  They are Equifax, Experian, Trans Union and Innovis.

What a security freeze will do is prevent anyone from accessing your credit report. So, if a scammer tries to open a new line of credit using your name, date of birth, and social security number, when the lender tries to pull your credit report, it’ll say it’s blocked and that you have to contact the credit bureau. Note: it will NOT say the report is frozen; this is part of the security feature.

Each of these places will give you a 6-digit number (PIN) you can call to unfreeze or thaw your reports.  You can “hide” this PIN somewhere you won’t lose it – because if you do, you’ll be stuck frozen.

If YOU go to open an account, you’ll have to contact the credit bureau ahead of time (either on the phone or online) and “thaw” your account for a little while. You can set the “thaw” either for a period of time or for a particular creditor. Also, if you want to completely remove it, you can, if you determine you don’t want the protection any longer. You will need that PIN you set for the bureaus to thaw or unfreeze your reports.  You can also temporarily thaw your account.  For example, if you know you’re going to be looking for a car over the next week, call the three bureaus and thaw your report for the next week. Or, if you are applying for a credit card, call and unfreeze your report for that company, and then turn the freeze back on.

Depending on your state of residence and your circumstances, you may also have to pay a small fee to place a freeze at each bureau. The fee ranges from $0 to $15 per bureau, meaning that it can cost upwards of $60 to place a freeze at all four credit bureaus (recommended).  In Illinois, it costs $10 to place a freeze and $10 “thaw” your account per credit bureau.  It appears that Equifax is going to offer free credit freezes.

If you are an active duty military service member who has submitted a copy of your orders calling you into service or extending your service, there is no fee. If you are 65 years of age or older, there is no fee.

The fee for temporarily or permanently removing a security freeze is $10. There is no fee for victims of identity theft who provide a valid copy of an identity theft report filed with a law enforcement agency. If you are 65 or over, ask if there is a discount.

Using credit freezes like this is a little more trouble and inconvenience in your life, it is better than having to clean up your credit after your identity has been stolen.

Note: A credit freeze has to be done separately at each of the credit bureaus.

Fraud Alert:

A less-impactful alternative to a credit freeze is a fraud alert.  A fraud alert requires potential creditors to contact you and obtain your permission before opening new lines of credit in your name. You are allowed by law to file a fraud alert (also called a “security alert”) with one of the credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or Trans Union) every 90 days. Whichever one you file with is required by law to alert the other two bureaus as well. The fourth bureau, Innovis, follows the same rules as the big three, and you may file a fraud alert with them as well.

Fraud alerts last 90 days, and you can renew them as often as you like; consumers who can demonstrate that they are victims or are likely to be victims of identity theft can also apply for a long-term fraud alert that lasts up to 7 years. A police report and other documentation may be required.

Equifax is promoting their own credit monitoring service, TrustedID, free for one year but may require payment after that.  You no longer will have to waive your right to class-action or personal lawsuits against Equifax to use this service. Other credit monitoring services such as LifeLock are available for monitoring new credit applications under your identity for a monthly or annual fee.

Free Credit Reports:

You are entitled by law to a free credit report from each of the Big 3 once a year.  This means you can check your credit 3 times a year (once every 4 months with each of the bureaus).

The only site you need to obtain this free copy is annualcreditreport.com, or by phone at 877-322-8228. Everywhere else will try to sell you a report, or offer a “free” report if you agree to sign up for some kind of subscription service — usually credit monitoring.  There are lots of look-alike sites out there (like freecreditreport.com) that are not the real, government-mandated service, so watch out.  You may want to save all these links I’m giving you to be sure.

Your free credit report will show all your lines of credit and other debt obligations, along with lots of data.  However, it won’t show your FICO score.  If that’s what you’re looking for, go to your bank or credit card company.  It usually costs money to get your FICO score.

To obtain additional information and to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach visit the following sites:

https://www.identitytheft.gov/Info-Lost-or-Stolen for additional information

https://www.identitytheft.gov/ to report identity theft