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.
The first thing to do is find out if your personal information was exposed. One way to do this is on Equifax's security site. When you get there, click the "Check potential impact" button and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. You’ll then be redirected to TrustedID Premier with a message confirming whether or not your information was exposed.
Now, since the data breach has left us all feeling vulnerable, we encourage you to use your best discretion when using this site. If it doesn't feel secure to you, there are additional ways below to find out if your information was exposed. We went ahead and walked through the process ourselves so we could give you a few tips on how to use it.
- If you go this route, make sure you are on a secure computer and using an encrypted network connection.
- Be prepared to do a little more digging. While some consumers have gotten a clear 'no,' many get a response that leaves their exposure level open to question.
- You'll also see an orange "Enroll" button inviting you to enroll in TrustedID Premier. This is because Equifax is offering one year of free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring – a step that many consumer advocates say doesn’t go far enough. This isn't a necessary next step, but is an option for added security if you'd like to take it. But note: This protection only applies to Equifax, not the other two credit reporting companies.
If your information was affected, or just might be, you'll want to take some additional steps to protect your accounts and your credit.
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, which is especially helpful if you didn't get a definitive "No" from Equifax. 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
Tips for using public Wi-Fi networks
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Read next: What’s in a credit score?
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