Equifax’s security breach has compromised the identities of 143 million Americans, including names, addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers, as well as some credit card numbers, drivers’ license numbers, and dispute documents with sensitive information. The breach is believed to have occurred between mid-May and July of 2017. Those affected by the security breach may not realize their information is at risk, as banks, retailers, and other creditors use Equifax to run credit reports before offering credit.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the national consumer protection agency for prevention of fraud, Equifax will mail you if your information has been compromised; they will not call you, and you should not give your information to a caller claiming to represent Equifax. There are steps you can take to tell if you have been affected, and to protect yourself against identity fraud:
1. Check Your Credit Report
You can check your credit report through Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, and by visiting annualcreditreport.com. You should also monitor your bank and credit card statements weekly. Immediately report any unauthorized activity.
2. Freeze Your Credit
Regardless of whether your information has been compromised, it is a good idea to freeze your credit as soon as possible. A credit freeze will prevent potential creditors from accessing your credit report, and will prevent potential hackers from using your information. However, the credit freeze will stop you from opening new lines of credit, as well. Once your credit is frozen, you can use a Personal Identification (PIN) number to unfreeze your credit report for your own use. To freeze/unfreeze your credit, you must contact each firm individually. In New York, fees typically apply when using this service, with some exceptions.
3. Fraud Alert and Credit Monitoring Services
The initial fraud alert is for 90 days, after which you may renew the alert and require creditors to contact you for verification any time your information is used to apply for a new line of credit. Because of the unchangeable nature of the data accessed, such as your date of birth and Social Security number, the information accessed in the data breach may circulate for an extended period of time. You may request a free extended fraud alert, which stays in place for seven (7) years. In response to this breach, Equifax is offering TrustedID Premier, a free, one-year credit-file monitoring and theft protection service. To access this service, visit equifaxsecurity2017.com.
4. File Your Taxes Early
By filing early, you can prevent an identity thief from receiving your tax refund. Be on the lookout for letters from the IRS and respond to them in a timely manner.
Equifax launched a forensic investigation immediately following the discovery of the data breach, and State Attorney Generals’ offices, the FBI, and other agencies are investigating, including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. For additional information on how to protect yourself, or if you think you have been a victim of identity fraud, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center’s services, free of charge, at www.idtheftcenter.org or (888) 400-5530.