Last week, Equifax revealed that it discovered a massive data breach in July affecting the personal identifiable information of over 140 million people, including social security numbers. Since then, Equifax has undergone immense public scrutiny regarding its security practices and its handling of breach notification. This will probably be the first of a series of posts concerning this incident. The FTC revealed Thursday September 14th it has opened its own investigation and Equifax’s CEO has been called to testify before Congress on October 3rd.
While the details and consequences of this breach continue to unfold, here are some immediate steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft.
Steps Everyone Should Take
First, you should log on to Equifaxsecurity2017.com and check whether Equifax believes your information was impacted by the breach.
Second, get a free copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Do this at annualcreditreport.com. Print a copy of your report and keep it in a secure location. You can use this report for future reference and make sure you can spot items that should not be there.
Third, if you don’t have a passport or you have lost your birth certificate, start the process to get these documents in hand. If you have both items, keep them in a secure location—preferably in a fireproof box. Naturalized citizens should also similarly secure their citizenship documents. These documents will be immensely helpful if you later become the victim of identity theft.
Fourth, plan to file your tax return early this year and after. While the IRS may end up changing its identity confirmation procedures because of this incident, right now the only identifier required to file a tax return is your social security number. If a scammer with your SSN files first, you will have to dispute the filing. This process can take a great deal of time and effort.
And finally, consider whether you want to enroll in Equifax’s year of free credit monitoring. This security service normally costs between $120 to $200 per year.
Is a Credit Freeze or Fraud Alert Right for Me?
If you decline credit monitoring or after the year expires, there are two other methods you can use to protect yourself from fraud and identity theft after this breach: a credit freeze or a fraud alert.
Freezing your credit prevents lenders from accessing your credit history. If lenders can’t retrieve your credit history, they can’t approve a fraudulent account or loan. The upside is the freeze will keep your existing credit in place and prevent anyone else from requesting your credit report or opening new lines of credit until you unfreeze it. The freeze won’t affect your credit score, current credit cards, or existing accounts, but you should give your insurance company a call to see if freezing your credit will cause any problems.
The downside is that you won’t be able to complete the process to open new credit accounts, get a new cell phone plan, purchase insurance, or do about anything that requires a credit check until you temporarily unfreeze your credit. This carries fees and takes a few days to process.
As a result, this might not be the right option for people that will need frequent credit checks, e.g. if you are or anticipate opening new credit cards, applying for new loans, applying for housing, and so on.
Unfreezing will require a PIN number provided by the company. Don’t lose it. If you are using the company website, follow their instructions and it will be sent to you. If you are requesting by phone, Equifax will tell it to you directly over the phone, Experian will send it by mail, and TransUnion will let you choose your own.
If a credit freeze makes sense for you, you’ll want to put it in place with all three major credit reporting companies. Right now, Equifax is waiving its freeze fee until Nov. 21, but TransUnion and Experion are not. You can do this on their webpages or by phone at:
This will probably take some patience due to the sheer volume of requests, so don’t be afraid to try again if you can’t get through in a reasonable time.
If a Credit Freeze Isn’t Right for Me, What About a Fraud Alert?
A fraud alert puts a notice in your report that makes sure a business takes steps to verify your identity before it issues credit. The upside to this method is it provides you protection but is less restrictive—you don’t have to temporarily unfreeze anything. The downside is simply that it is less secure than a credit freeze.
There are three categories:
If you’ve not yet become a victim of identity theft, you can place an initial fraud alert. The first alert is free for 90 days. After that, it will cost money to renew, but you will also get the right to order another free copy of your report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Each renewal effectively allows you to check your credit report for fraudulent activity once every 30 days in addition to the three reports you are entitled to by law (for a total of 15). All of these together can provide a considerable safeguard against fraud while being less restrictive than a credit freeze. You can do this on any one of the credit reporting agency’s sites and they will report it to the others.
If you’ve confirmed you are an identity theft victim, you can file an initial report with the FTC online at https://www.identitytheft.gov/#what-to-do-right-away or by phone at 1-877-438-4338. After you’ve filed, you can move for an extended fraud alert. This is completely free and lasts for seven years and entitles you to 2 credit reports from each of the three agencies plus your three annual reports (for a total of 9 per year).
And finally, if you are a deployed active duty member of the U.S. military, you can apply for Active Duty Alert. This lasts for one year and can be renewed if your deployment lasts longer.
What Comes Next?
There will probably be entire chapters in data privacy textbooks devoted to the effects of this breach, and this will likely be the first in a series of posts. If you want to explore other available options, you can visit the FTC’s web pages for Data Breach: https://www.identitytheft.gov/Info-Lost-or-Stolen and Identity Theft: https://www.identitytheft.gov/Steps
For more information about protecting your digital assets, check out our blog and contact your Sioux City Law Firm, Sioux Falls Law Firm, or Omaha Law Firm today!