The Equifax data breach is a serious issue that, unfortunately, is still developing. Equifax is one of the three largest consumer credit reporting agencies, and initial reports suggest 143 million people may have been impacted.
The Federal Trade Commission has a blog post you should read to see if your data has been compromised and to review your initial steps if it has happened. Note: the instructions in the blog let you know that to check your status, you must type part of your Social Security number into the Equifax site. This is legitimate, but you should use your own judgment. In any case, you should read the FTC recommendations. Click here, or type in the below URL:
Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission has a website of detailed steps to take to help recover from identity theft. Click here, or type in the below URL:
Finally, I have some tips that I think may help you take specific steps to keep yourself safer. Probably the most disturbing part of the event to me is the lack of explanation as to how this happened. Equifax says they do not believe this was the work of dangerous, sophisticated hackers, but this does not give me confidence. I hate to think that Equifax was hacked by amateurs. Certainly, it is a heads up to be careful.
- Even if you believe your information is not at risk, you should consider freezing your credit at the three major credit agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. This can be done over the phone or online. Right after the announcement, the phones were busy and the sites crashed. However, you may find it easier to contact them now. There is a fee for this service, although Equifax is waiving a monitoring service, at least for awhile.
- Write down all the details of your conversations with these agencies. At some point, you will want to turn off the service, or you may need credit for a purchase. YOU MUST HAVE THE NUMBER ASSOCIATED WITH THE CREDIT FREEZE. Additionally, the time I froze credit, I had additional identifying information I had to provide to them. Make your life easy–write it down and save it in two or three places. The inability to unfreeze your credit could be a huge headache.
- Do not check your own credit score constantly. Some services claim they do not report personal credit checks, but most of the time, checking your credit will count against your credit score. Given the severity of the breach, this may be modified, but I would be careful for now.
- File your 2017 taxes as early as possible. All of your personal information may have been accessed in the Equifax hack. This includes everything criminals would need to file a tax return in your name, change the address, and send themselves a refund. The IRS is both angry and worried because you can’t freeze your taxes.
I expect that we will learn more about the Equifax breach in the upcoming weeks and months. However, these initial steps are a good place for you to start trying to protect your identity. Of course, as I learn more, I will share the information with you.