Even if you’ve never used Equifax before, there is a decent possibility that your credit information could have been stolen by hackers in their recent high-profile cybersecurity breach. According to Equifax, the personal information of up to 143 million Americans – nearly half the country – was accessed by cyber criminals. As one of the country’s three nationwide credit report companies, they track and rate consumers’ financial histories using data they obtain from banks, credit card companies, lenders and retailers – without your knowledge. Some people in Canada and the U.K. were also affected.
How can you tell if your name, date of birth, social security number, credit card number, address, driver’s license, or other personal information was compromised? Equifax is currently doing some damage control and has set up a tool on its website that can let you check quickly and easily whether or not you were involved.
All you need to do is head over to a special page set up on the Equifax Site, where you’ll be greeted with a message from Equifax explaining what to do next. You’ll be asked to click on a link labeled “Check Potential Impact.” From there, you’ll need to provide your last name along with the last six digits of your social security number. After entering that information, Equifax will immediately tell you if you have been affected. If so, they will offer you the chance to enroll in TrustedID Premier, a service that monitors your credit file and protects you from identity theft, for free for one year, even if you were not personally affected by the breach.
However, it is important to note that if you decide to take up Equifax on its offer of a year of free protection, you could be limiting your right to sue them unless you opt out of that provision by notifying the firm in writing within 30 days.
Equifax won’t be contacting everyone who was involved in the breach, although they do plan to send out direct notices by mail to people whose dispute records or credit card numbers were accessed. Equifax has set up a call center to answer questions about the breach at 866-447-7559.
They recommend that people review their credit reports and account statements to look for signs of fraud. The country’s three credit reporting agencies, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, allow each person a free copy of their credit report once a year. Should you notice any unauthorized activity, you need to report it right away to your credit card company or bank, as applicable. If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft as well, you need to inform law enforcement.
It is also worthwhile to place fraud alerts on your credit report. If you do this, lenders must contact you directly to verify your identity prior to issuing credit in your name, thereby preventing unauthorized individuals from taking out credit using your personal data. You only need to contact one of the credit agencies to put the alert in place; they are required to notify the other agencies on your behalf. Fraud alerts run for 90 days and are renewable, so mark your calendar with a reminder before it’s set to expire. A fraud alert can be placed free of charge.
The Federal Trade Commission also offers a useful resource on their site outlining steps to take if you want to keep your personal information secure or you have been a victim of a data breach.
The Equifax breach is one of the biggest and most serious on record. It occurred some time between the middle of May and July. Although Equifax discovered the hack on July 29, it took them six weeks to notify the public. As this incident illustrates, it is important to be vigilant and check your account statements and credit reports regularly to protect yourself.
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