How to protect yourself after the Equifax data breach
September 20, 2017
Here at Framework, we’re a bit obsessed with credit. If you’ve taken our online homebuyer course or read anything on our blog, you know that we encourage people – especially those applying for a mortgage – to review their credit reports regularly.
That advice is even more important after the announcement earlier this month that millions of consumers had their personal information exposed during a data breach at Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus. (TransUnion and Experian are the other two.)
What you need to know
The breach, which occurred from mid-May through July, affected as many as 143 million American consumers. That’s about 44% of the U.S. population. And it took Equifax 40 days to confirm what had happened and inform consumers of the breach.
We now know that the exposed data for those affected includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses. In some cases, it even includes driver's license numbers, credit card numbers, and dispute documents with personal identifying information. “Those types of personal data are the crown jewels for fraudsters,” said John Ulzheimer, president of The Ulzheimer Group.
The bottom line is this: If you have credit, whether you’ve reviewed your credit report recently or not, you may have reason to be concerned. In fact, many experts say you should assume you’ve been affected.
Here are some steps to consider:
Place a credit freeze or fraud alert on your files. If you were affected, or just might be, a credit freeze will make it more difficult for thieves to open new accounts in your name (although it won't stop them from making charges to your existing accounts). A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim, and that they should verify anyone seeking credit in your name. This alert is free and lasts for up to 90 days.
Check your credit reports. This will help you identify any accounts or activity that you don’t recognize. The law entitles you to a free annual report from each credit reporting bureau – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – and you can check them all at annualcreditreport.com.
Closely monitor your existing credit cards and bank accounts. If you see any charges you don’t recognize, call the card company or your bank immediately. You may also want to check your bank's website for additional warnings or instructions on how to keep your accounts safe.
File your taxes as early as possible this year. If you don't file early, a scammer might do it for you. And keep this in mind for future years as well, since some of the information exposed is static (like your name and Social Security number) and could be used at a later date.
Many of these items – like keeping an eye on your credit reports and bank accounts – are good practice even if your information was kept secure. And if you do find suspicious activity on your credit reports, read up here on how to fix any errors that you find.
Our list of helpful links
Officially report identity theft and get a recovery plan
What to do when your information is lost or exposed
Ongoing security breach updates from Equifax
Frequently asked questions about the Equifax security breach
Computer security tips from the Federal Trade Commission
Learn about identity-theft protection services
Tips for using public Wi-Fi networks
This post was originally published in September 2017, and was updated for accuracy and completeness in October 2018.