The revelation of the Equifax breach has serious implications for well over a hundred million U.S. citizens. The breach, which was announced September 7th, occurred in May, possibly earlier. To date, over 140 million individuals have been identified as having been part of the breach. Social Security numbers, credit history, personal information, residency history…these are the keys identity thieves use to unlock your identity and use it as their own.
To protect yourself and prepare yourself for the worst, follow these six steps.
Step 1: Verify If Your Information Was Part of the Breach
The first thing you should do is determine if you have been potentially impacted by the breach. To do this, visit: www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. The website was set up by Equifax the day of the September 7th announcement. Nearly a week later, the huge surge of traffic to the website has abated a bit, but don’t be discouraged if you can’t access it. Try again in an hour or two.
At the bottom of the site you will see a button that should look like this:
Click the button and you will be taken to a screen asking for last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Equifax takes this info and compares it to their database to determine if you are one of the potential 140 plus million people impacted by their data breach.
If your name and Social Security number do not return a result, that is good news…but no guarantee you were not impacted by the breach. There is no way to know at this time if there were more individuals affected by the intrusion.
Step 2: Sign up for TrustedID and TrueIdentity
Equifax is also offering a free year of TrustedID, a multi-tiered identity protection service, in the wake of the data breach. This might seem ironic, considering Equifax’s role in the breach itself, but your focus should be on protecting your identity and credit, and the service appears sound. There was a concern that Equifax had written an exception to its terms and conditions that took away the right of those enrolled in TrustedID to participate in legal remedies, but the language has been updated to make an exception for this data breach.
Here’s a quick overview of what TrustedID promises:
- Credit monitoring with the three major credit bureaus
- Ability to lock your Equifax credit report
- Searching for appearances of your Social Security number on suspicious web sites
- A free Equifax credit report
- 1 million in identity theft insurance
TrueIdentity is a similar service to TrueID, but offered by Transunion. Unlike the temporary offer from Equifax, TrueIdentity is a free service. With TrueIdentity you can:
- Lock your Transunion credit report online or through an app
- Locking and unlocking is as simple as a swipe
- Get near-instant notifications of applications for credit in your name
- Access from Transunion to review your credit information if a critical change has been made
You can go here to sign up or find out more information.
3: Activate Fraud Alerts
Regardless of whether you are identified as being impacted by the Equifax breach, there is no guarantee you won’t be identified later…and setting up fraud alerts is a commonsense safeguard that you should have in place when you feel your credit information has been compromised.
All three credit bureaus allow you to set up fraud alerts. Each bureau is supposed to notify the other two, but if you want to be sure, here are links to setting up alerts for each bureau:
4: Freeze or Lock Your Credit
If you aren’t actively looking for a loan or seeking to open a new line of credit, a credit freeze might be in order. A credit freeze prevents any company, outside of those you are already doing business with, from accessing your credit report and information. This means, in effect, anyone attempting to use your information to open a new loan or line of credit will be denied.
There are a few things to consider with a credit freeze, however. The first is cost. Credit bureaus charge for the service. The second issue is the inconvenience of setting it up, taking it down, and setting it back up, a sequence of events you may have to deal with if you use the service for a prolonged time, but need to turn it off while pursuing a loan or credit line. However, a few hours of your time and fees might be worth it if it prevents unauthorized use of your identity and the resulting impact such a use can have on your credit score and history, not to mention the lengths you may have to go through to repair fraudulent use of your credit.
Here are the links to set up credit freezes with each major credit bureau:
Credit locking, on the other hand, essentially allows you to have control over who has access to your credit. You have real-time access to lock and unlock files. Fees are dependent on each bureau. Equifax is giving free access for the next month, to cover a year of enrollment. Experian charges a fee and Transunion’s offering is free. Each bureau has a name associated with their locking service. Equifax’s TrustID, which was covered in Step 2, includes their credit locking service. Here are the links and names of each major credit bureau’s credit locking service:
5: Examine Your Credit Report
All Americans are entitled to a free credit report every year, from each major bureau. These free annual credit reports can be accessed through www.annualcreditreport.com. You can also enroll in various paid programs at the three agencies that allow you to access your credit report with greater frequency.
If the prospect of more fees is a concern, you can also sign up for services such as Credit Karma and Credit Sesame. These services work with Transunion and Equifax to provide a basic credit overview of current accounts and inquiries into your credit report, as well as your score, as determined by these two agencies. Experian does not participate at this time, but both services are free, are updated frequently, and there is no limit to how often you can access them.
6: Monitor Your Credit
Monitoring your credit can take many avenues…what it comes down to is being aware of any changes or activity in your account. If you followed some or all the previous five suggestions, you are already working at monitoring your credit.
TrustID is probably sufficient for now if you take advantage of the free enrollment for the next month. Transunion’s TrueIdentity also looks promising, and it’s free as well. Both services should provide a comfortable level of credit monitoring, however, they do not cover Experian, which does not offer an equivalent free service. In most cases, however, any application for credit will go through all three bureaus, so what happens with Equifax and Transunion will likely occur with Experian as well.
As a financial advisor, my career focuses on managing investments for my clients and helping to keep their investments safe. But we are all responsible for our credit and identity, and the recent breach from Equifax highlights just how easy it is for our information to become vulnerable. Follow these steps and keep on top of your credit files to ensure you are not a victim of identity theft or worse.