Right before Hurricane Irma was hitting my home state and affecting my area, the Equifax security breach blew up. (Seriously, is anybody else exhausted by September already?)
As if I didn’t have enough to worry about (like, you know, a Category 4 hurricane heading my way), now I also had to worry about identity theft. Great.
By now, you’ve likely heard that Equifax – one of the three major credit bureaus – had a major data breach where 143 million people had their information exposed.
I got a lot of questions about this as it was happening and posted a quick response on social media and via email. Due to the hurricane and losing power and internet access for several days, I was not able to provide additional info as it came out.
I’m making up for that right now.
Here’s what you need to know:
- As I already mentioned, there was a major data breach. This included social security numbers, personal information and in some cases credit card numbers.
- You don’t need to have been an Equifax customer to have been affected. Credit issuers report to Equifax, so if you have credit of any kind Equifax likely had your info. You also can’t just stop using Equifax unless you want to stop using credit period.
- Equifax was directing people to a website where they could find out whether or not they were affected. It only sort of worked and, having gone through it myself, I found it to be cumbersome and kind of ass backwards. It also provided no real answers. They are also offering a year a free credit monitoring.
Here are some rumors that have been cleared up since the breach was announced:
- You waive your rights to a class action lawsuit if you sign up for credit monitoring. This has since been dropped due to public outcry. (For the record, this was super shady of them.)
- You need to pay Equifax a $10 fee to freeze your credit report. This has also been dropped. (More on credit freezes in a second)
- Equifax will tell you if there’s an issue. Again, only sort of. You also have to remember that identity theft criminals are patient. It could be years before someone tries to use your identity and at the point it will be hard to prove that Equifax had something to do with it. As such, credit monitoring is on you.
- You have to put in a part of your social security number – not the whole thing – on the Equifax website to find out if you’ve been affected. Again, having gone through the process myself, it only sort of works. At the time of trying it, it only said my information “may” have been affected but that they basically weren’t sure. Thanks, Equifax.
Given the magnitude of this breach, I always air on the side of caution. Here are a few things you can do to make sure your identity isn’t stolen.
Sign up for credit monitoring (just not with Equifax).
While I went through the Equifax process to determine whether or not my information had been compromised, I actually didn’t finish signing up for their credit monitoring for this.
There are two reasons for this.
One – you don’t have to. There are plenty of free services out there. I personally use Credit Sesame which is free for one bureau and offers $50,000 of identity theft insurance. You also have the option to upgrade for a low monthly fee to monitor more. Plenty of other options out there as well, and then you won’t need to give more of your information to the same people who leaked it.
Two – what do you think will happen when your year of free credit monitoring is up? Equifax will charge you. With so many free options out there, it doesn’t really make sense to do this.
Consider a credit freeze with all three credit bureaus.
I froze my credit with all three bureaus. This means a criminal won’t be able to take out a line of credit in my name because it’s frozen. Only I can unlock it again.
There’s one main reason why I did this. It’s because I had a hurricane heading my way and I knew I would be without power for some time. This meant I couldn’t monitor my accounts because there would be no way I could access it.
The second reason is because, as I already mentioned, identity theft criminals are patient. They may not try something right away. In fact, they probably won’t given this is top of mind for everyone.
Depending on which state you are in, you may be required to pay a fee. However, you are not required to pay a fee if you are a victim of identity theft. Given the major breach, you no longer have to pay for a freeze on your Equifax report, but only until November 21st. You may still have to for the others. If you do, they are $10 each in Florida. (I know because I did it lol).
Do you need to freeze all three credit bureaus? Yes. Otherwise criminals can open accounts with your information with lenders who only use Experian or TransUnion.
Set up fraud alerts.
You’ll also want to consider setting up fraud alerts with the three credit bureaus. This will notify you of any suspicious activity. The downside is this means the crime already happened, which is why you may want to consider a credit freeze as well.
While this data breach is major news, it’s not the end of the world. Data breaches happen all the time, it just so happens this one is major. Luckily, there are ways you can protect yourself.