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Do you have a credit report in the US? Then there’s a good chance your private information is now in the hands of hackers. Find out what you need to do now!
Almost everyone in the US with a credit score is now at risk for identity theft. Hackers gained access to the sensitive information of at least 143 million people, including names, social security numbers, birthdays, and driver’s license numbers. Plus, they have credit card numbers for over 209,000 Equifax customers.
This hack, the fifth largest data breach in history, occurred sometime during mid-May to June 2017. Equifax realized the breach occurred on July 29, but waited until September 7 to release a statement to its customers—that there was a good chance their sensitive information was compromised.
The backlash from the press was quick and harsh, as well as from the public—especially when three Equifax executives admitted to unloading company stock just days after the discovery of the breach. Top company officials promised that they would do everything in their power to correct the situation, but instead of taking full blame, they deflected much of it onto the software the company they use, Apache STRUTS a free, open-source framework for developing Java applications.
As Equifax struggles through its PR nightmare, I suggest that all my clients take action now to minimize the risk of identity theft resulting in a financial nightmare of their own.
This data breach is too large to just sit there and hope it won’t affect you. Now is the time to get out in front of this thing and to take action to help protect yourself. But what can you do?
First, don’t panic and try to relax. Yes, this is a serious situation, and customers have every right to feel frustrated, but writing an angry email or calling to scream at a customer representative at Equifax won’t solve anything or help stop criminals from stealing your identity.
When you can once again breathe normally, consider freezing your credit report. A credit freeze is one of the most powerful weapons against identity theft. A credit freeze prevents anyone, including yourself, from accessing your credit report without the use of a special pin number to “thaw” the report. This helps to stop criminals from using your credit information to apply for a loan or credit cards.
There are three credit reporting companies in the US. When you freeze your credit at one of them, it won’t do any good unless you freeze the others as well. Equifax is currently offering everyone in the US the ability to freeze their credit report for free, but it’s important to know that the company won’t charge fees when you use the thawing option. The two other credit reporting companies, Experian and Transunion, are currently charging fees to both freeze and thaw credit reports, but it’s worth the small expense for more peace of mind.
After freezing your credit, it is time to find out what personal information hackers may have stolen about you. While Equifax is making promises to inform every customer whose credit card information the breach affected, it may be weeks or more before you hear anything. You can speed up the process by checking online to learn if hackers may have your information. To handle the large volume of additional calls, the company set up a hotline at 1-866-447-7559. This hotline is open every day from 7 AM to 1 AM Eastern.
Finally, if you don’t already have credit monitoring, make sure you enroll in a program now. Equifax is offering free credit monitoring through a partnership for one year. However, there are many other credit monitoring services that may be more appropriate for your needs. It’s a mistake to sign up for a free year with Equifax and think you can cancel the service after 12 months. The fact is the threat won’t end after only one year. Protecting your credit report from fraud is your lifelong responsibility. Whether you choose to hire a company to help protect your credit report through automatic monitoring, or if you prefer to keep watch on it by yourself, it is a modern-day necessity.
The Equifax data breach is likely to continue to cause repercussions for months, and even years down the road. Hopefully, this breach is the wake-up call everyone needs to take to modernize the way the US financial industry handles credit. It’s a good sign that the US government is promising an extensive investigation into the Equifax hack and cover up. As a response to the outrage of the voters, Senators are already reintroducing the Stop Errors in Credit Use and Reporting (SECURE) Act, which would give people more control over their credit reports. The Act would give consumers many additional rights, including the ability to view the same reports the credit-reporting companies send to lenders, to freeze the credit reports of minors, and to sue companies that violate any credit-reporting rules.
Senator Brian Schatz said that the SECURE Act is only the first of several actions the US Senate is planning to implement to prevent something like the Equifax hack from having devastating impacts in the future.