The Equifax credit breach has caused panic in consumers across the country. It is estimated that 143 million Americans were impacted between May and July of this year and widespread media reports that the compromised information included names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth has led to confusion about what consumers should do next. Since the information in the breach is nearly everything that would be needed to open an account in your name, it is important to take a proactive approach to protecting yourself.
Unfortunately, cybercrime is not a new phenomenon. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the number of occurrences continues to rise each year and it takes the average victim of identity theft an estimated $500 and 30 hours to resolve each crime. So, what should you do if you were affected by the Equifax breach?
Determine if you were impacted
First, visit the Equifax breach website at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to determine whether you have been impacted. Keep in mind that the full impact of this breach may not be known yet, so consider revisiting the site periodically for the next few weeks. Next, consider obtaining credit monitoring services (even if Equifax says that you are not impacted by this breach). Regardless of whether you were impacted, Equifax is offering free credit monitoring to all Americans and several companies also offer similar services for a fee. These services are a way for consumers to be on the look-out for suspicious activity. The problem is that simply monitoring credit may not necessarily be comprehensive enough - the equivalent of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.
If you determine that your information was compromised, you may want to consider taking additional steps to protect yourself including placing a freeze on your credit with all of the following credit reporting agencies:
Freezing your credit is the only way to prevent those with your personal information from opening accounts in your name. (Keep in mind, you will also be unable to open new accounts for yourself too.) The scramble by consumers to freeze their credit has overwhelmed many of the credit agencies sites and phone systems, resulting in online error messages and long wait times. If you are unable to get the answers or response that you need, keep trying. Be sure to keep careful records of your confirmations and any PIN numbers that are provided so that you can easily unfreeze your accounts in the future. These will also be needed even if you are only choosing to temporarily lift your freeze when applying for new credit. Also, remember that it may take a few days to unfreeze your accounts and it is possible that some agencies may charge a nominal fee to lift the freeze.
For consumers interested in additional measures, comprehensive identity protection may be helpful and advances in technology have steadily improved these services. From free services for basic credit monitoring to monthly fees of $24.95+ for identity protection, consumers have many options to consider.
Consumers should also be on high alert for impersonators or phishing attempts. Specifically, be on the lookout for emails that appear to be from familiar companies, notifying you that you are impacted with instructions to “click here” for more information. When in doubt, verify any links - any legitimate company will have another way for you to contact them to be sure the email is safe. If you are impacted by an online breach, you may also consider changing all passwords and securing your computers/devices too.
While the size and scope of the Equifax breach is surprising, the evolution of technology and the sophistication of cyberthieves has made it difficult for companies to stay one step ahead. It is critical for consumers to take steps to protect themselves. Since risks may be different for each person impacted, consider speaking to credit monitoring and identity theft protection specialists to determine how best to protect yourself.