Amidst the fires in the west and the hurricanes in the south, and continual worry about friends and family located in all parts of the country, you may have read that hackers broke into the Equifax database and stole personal information tied to 143 million people. While the safety and care of people is most important, we want to highlight this issue and the need to follow up with action.
The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. It is very reasonable to think that data is for sale to criminals who can use it to open new lines of credit or file phony tax refund requests in peoples’ names.
Equifax compounded its public relations nightmare by sending people to a website to find out if they were affected, and then including language so that anyone signing in to get this information had to waive any right to join a class action suit against the company should their identities be stolen and financial harm come to them.
First, under federal law you’re allowed to request a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can do this every 122 days by rotating among the agencies. Look for suspicious accounts or activity that you don’t recognize, such as someone trying to open a new credit card or apply for a loan in your name. If you DO see something, visit http://www. Identitytheft.gov/databreach to find out how to mitigate the damage.
- Second, monitor your online statements. The credit report won’t tell you if there’s been money stolen from a bank account or suspicious activity on your credit card. Unfortunately, you’ll have to turn this into a habit. In most cases, theft happens over time, starting with small amounts stolen from across your accounts.
- Third, place a credit freeze and/or fraud alert on your account with all the major credit bureaus. You can put a fraud alert, for free, by contacting one of the credit agencies, which is required to notify the other two. This will warn creditors that you may be an identity theft victim, and they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you. The fraud alert will last for 90 days and can be renewed. Please see the links at the end of this bulletin.
Finally, there’s one last way you can protect yourself. ID thieves like to intercept offers of new credit sent via postal mail. If you don’t want to receive prescreened offers of credit and insurance, you have two choices: You can opt out of receiving them for five years by calling toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visiting www.optoutprescreen.com.
Or you can opt out permanently online at www.optoutprescreen.com. To complete your request, you must return a signed Permanent Opt-Out Election form, which will be provided after you initiate your online request.
Many Americans have opted to sign up for a credit monitoring service, which won’t prevent fraud from happening, but WILL alert you when your personal information is being used or requested. In most cases, there is a cost involved, but Equifax is offering a free year of credit monitoring through its TrustedID Premier business, whether or not you’ve been affected by the hack. It includes identity theft insurance, and it will also scan the Internet for use of your Social Security number – assuming you trust Equifax with this information after the breach.