On Thursday, September 7th, Equifax, one of three nationwide credit reporting agencies, revealed that personal information for about 143 million Americans had been stolen from their database. Equifax said Thursday that the breach took place between mid-May and July of this year and the hack was identified on July 29th. This breach is particularly important because the information stolen ranges from Social Security numbers to birthdates and addresses. Whereas previous cybersecurity breaches from other companies have often contained credit card numbers, which can be replaced, your Social Security number is very difficult to change, making this breach even more serious.
Was I impacted?
Equifax has created a website that will tell you whether or not you were potentially impacted by the breach. Go to https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/ and click on the link you’ll find at the bottom that reads “Potential Impact.” You will be required to enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number and will receive an immediate answer.
What should I do if I was impacted?
Consider enrolling in the free credit monitoring service provided by Equifax
Equifax has offered to provide one year of free access to TrustedID, an ID theft and credit monitoring services. According to the Equifax website, “TrustedID Premier provides you with copies of your Equifax credit report; the ability to lock your Equifax credit report; 3-Bureau credit monitoring of your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports; Internet scanning for your Social Security number; and identity theft insurance.” Keep in mind that this service only helps identify fraudulent activity, it does not prevent it. It is also only available for one year, so it’s up to you to take action after that.
Please also note that enrolling in this service does not prohibit you from taking legal action. The website states “we will not apply any arbitration clause or class action waiver against consumers for claims related to the free products offered in response to the cybersecurity incident or for claims related to the cybersecurity incident itself.” For a full list of FAQ’s, visit https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/frequently-asked-questions/
Check your credit score
By going to annualcreditreport.com, you can pull your three free credit reports each year from the three credit-reporting bureaus. Keep in mind that because you only have three per year, you may want to consider staggering these throughout the year. Once you have the report, read through the document to confirm the information is correct, and pay special attention to the list of inquiries on your credit report to confirm you recognize all of them. If you see an error, you can initiate a dispute with the credit-reporting bureau.
Consider placing a freeze on your files
The strongest possible action you can take is to place a freeze on your files with the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. By freezing your credit file, you are essentially blocking anyone from accessing your credit history, which means that imposters will not be able to open new credit accounts in your name. A small fee is usually required to place the freeze, and another fee may be assessed to unfreeze the account. Doing this does not impact your credit score and does not expire until you remove it. This is important to keep in mind if you are considering opening any new credit cards, borrowing money for a home or car, or even renting a new home. Unfreezing your account may take several days, so plan accordingly.
Whether or not you were impacted by this breach, it’s important to always be vigilant about protecting your personal information. Cybersecurity is, and will continue to be, a focus for us at Johnson Investment Counsel and we are always on the lookout to prevent potential fraud.
Grant Cooper is a Portfolio Manager Assistant with Johnson Investment Counsel (“Johnson”). The views and opinions presented in this article are intended for educational purposes and should not be construed as the rendering of personalized investment advice. The views and opinions expressed in this article are not intended to be tailored financial advice and may not be suitable for your situation. Mr. Cooper and Johnson make no warranties or representations, either expressed or implied, as to the reliability, accuracy, correctness, or completeness of, and will not have any liability or responsibility for, any third-party materials posted to the links, or for any other materials, products, or services of third parties. The links are provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as an endorsement by Johnson.