The Equifax Breach: What You Should Do

Sometime over the summer, a massive data breach occured at Equifax. Equifax is one of three major credit reporting agencies, along with TransUnion and Experian. The main purpose of these companies is to gather and compile data about you. Other businesses, such as potential lenders, can buy this data from these companies to help them decide whether you are a good person to lend to, or whether you're too risky.

You are not an Equifax customer. You are its product. You don't get to consent to having your data collected, but Equifax did have a duty to keep your data safe.

They failed. Over half the adult population of the United States - about 143 Million people - had their personal identification information stolen. That data could include social security numbers, names, addresses and dates of birth. In other words, all that a fraudster would need to impersonate you and open new accounts, credit cards, and take out loans in your name. Other information like credit card numbers and drivers licences were also stolen from a smaller number of people.

Is this fair? Of course not. A crime has occurred. But short of influencing legislation, there is little that you as an individual can do about it. Practically speaking, your next steps should be to protect yourself.


Keep an Eye on your Credit Report


If you aren't in the habit of checking it every year, make it a habit. You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the agencies per year.  I've already written a post about how and why you should check your credit report - start there.

Freeze your credit


You will need to contact the credit reporting agencies directly and put a block on your personal informatin (you will have to give them your confidential information) this is something you may prefer to do directly, over the phone. Here is the contact information for each of the credit bureaus:

Experian

Phone: (888)397-3742
https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html


Equifax

Phone: (800)349-9960
https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp


TransUnion

Phone (888)909-8872
https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze

Credit bureaus will charge you for the freeze: typically $5-10 per bureau. Once again, totally not fair, but short of political action, unavoidable.

Increase Personal Cybersecurity


Now that everyone's DOB and SSN is potentially for sale, lock your accounts with extra info. Enabling two-factor authentication and setting security questions may keep fraudsters out of your account.

Consider Making Bogus Answers to Security Questions

What hospital were you born in? What was your mother's maiden name? What was your first pet?

The answers to these questions are supposed to keep you safe, but most of your family members already know them, and all someone has to do is add you on facebook or make friendly conversation with you to figure out the answers to these questions.

You don't have to answer these questions truthfully, you know- they exist only to jog your memory. You can set every single answer to "SuperPenguins" if you choose! As long as you will remember the answer, you can write anything you want.

What was your mother's maiden name?
BunchOfBananas

What was the name of the middle school you attended?
MiddleSchoolSucked

These are all great answers to security questions, provided you remember them.

I've never been married, but one of my favorite security questions asks for my anniversary. I know exactly which date to enter, but no one else does.

Of course, using your real anniversary as a security question is a pretty bad idea.

Monitor your Accounts


Keep an eye on your online accounts and bank statements. Take advantage of any perks your credit cards or bank accounts offer, such as text message notices whenever you make a purchase over a certain amount. I have my checking account set up to do this whenever I make an ATM withdrawal.

You might decide to go with a credit monitoring service, such as the one Equifax offers, but these cost money. There has been some grumbling about Equifax making profits from its own mistake by selling more credit monitoring subscriptions.

If you suspect that someone has been opening accounts in your name or fraudulently gaining access to your existing accounts, your first stop should be to file a police report. Check out this post on what to do if a family member steals your identity: it doesn't just apply to family members.


The Equifax breach isn't an immediate financial death sentence to everyone affected, but the scale of it makes it very concerning. If nothing else, let it be a wake up call to you as an individual consumer to take control of your personal cybersecurity, and a call to action for the country as a whole to think about ethics and duties involved in credit reporting.

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