Equifax’s recent announcement of a massive data breach affecting approximately 143 million consumers has many consumers wondering how to protect themselves. This guide offers some options and considerations to help you protect yourself and your family.
Measures Equifax Has Offered
First, Equifax has made two resources available to every U.S. consumer:
- Equifax set up a tool intended to tell consumers whether they were impacted by this breach. You will need to enter your last name and the last 6 digits of your Social Security number in order to use the tool. The tool has fallen under some marked criticism, so it would be prudent to also be on the lookout for a traditional notification letter from Equifax via regular mail.
- Equifax is offering a free, one year credit file monitoring and identity theft protection service called TrustedID Premier to every U.S. consumer, regardless of whether their information may have been impacted. You can enroll by following the instructions on the Equifax breach website. The enrollment period ends November 21, 2017.
Several commenters, most notably the New York Attorney General, have alleged that Equifax’s enrollment terms require consumers to agree to arbitrate claims and waive their right to sue. New York’s Attorney General has demanded Equifax remove the clause from the enrollment terms and Equifax has since updated its terms and confirmed that it will not apply any arbitration or waiver clauses to consumers who enroll for the free monitoring service.
The following are additional options and considerations you can pursue:
- You can monitor your past and future account statements for evidence of fraudulent activity and contact your financial institution if you notice any issues. You can call the financial institutions where you have accounts and talk to them about whether you should change account numbers or take any other proactive steps. The Equifax breach affected some credit cards, but it is not apparent that any bank accounts were affected.
- If you don’t trust Equifax to monitor your credit file, other private companies like Experian, TransUnion, and AllClear ID offer similar solutions for a price. The effectiveness of these solutions is sometimes debated, so you may consider reviewing your credit reports on your own for evidence of fraudulent activity. You can obtain a free credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) every 12 months. You can obtain your free credit reports by:
- Visiting www.annualcreditreport.com
- Calling (877) 322-8228
- Filling out the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) annual credit report request form and mailing it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
- Contacting any of the three major credit reporting agencies directly to request a copy of your credit report.
- You can place a fraud alert on your credit report file. A fraud alert is free to you, and tells entities extending credit to take additional steps to verify the legitimacy of certain requests regarding your credit report, which can make it more difficult for someone to get credit in your name. When weighing your options, consider that placing a fraud alert on your credit report file may delay your ability to obtain credit. To place a fraud alert you only need to contact one of the nationwide credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, Transunion); that agency will notify the others, which will then place an alert on their versions of your credit report file.
- You can place a credit freeze (also known as a “security freeze”) on your credit report file. A credit freeze prohibits a credit reporting agency from releasing information from your credit report without your prior written authorization, with limited exceptions, which makes it more difficult for unauthorized parties to open new accounts in your name. When weighing your options, consider that placing a security freeze on your credit report can delay, interfere with, or prevent timely approval of any request you make for credit. Additionally, you may be charged to place or lift a credit freeze depending on the state in which you live and your status as a victim of identity theft. You must separately place a credit freeze with each credit reporting company.
- If you receive Social Security benefits you can check your benefits on the Social Security Administration (SSA) website or by calling the SSA (1-800-772-1213). Additional tips from the SSA are available here: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10064.pdf.
- If you are concerned about the possibility of a fraudulent tax return being filed, you may notify the IRS as described on their website. The FTC recommends filing your taxes as soon as you have the tax information you need, to reduce your risk of fraud.
Still have questions? The following resources can provide you with additional information about the Equifax breach and/or identifying and preventing identity theft in the future:
- The Equifax breach website was launched by Equifax specifically to address concerns related to this data breach. The website includes an FAQ and may be updated as Equifax or law enforcement learn more about the breach.
- The FTC has also posted guidance for consumers on what to do following the Equifax breach.
- You can also contact the three nationwide credit reporting companies with questions or concerns regarding your credit or risk of identity theft, or to place a fraud alert or credit freeze, as discussed above:
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
- You can contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or law enforcement, such as your state attorney general, to report incidents of identity theft or to learn about steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft. You can contact the FTC at:
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
(877) IDTHEFT (438-4338)
- The United States Department of Justice has also made resources available for you to learn more about identity theft.
Finally, be aware that other bad actors may attempt to perpetrate additional fraud in connection with highly-publicized breaches. One common scam entails fraudsters sending emails, standing up websites, or placing calls posing as Equifax or one of your financial institutions. The email, website, or call may seek payment or personal information, potentially under the guise of confirming whether you were affected by the breach or enrolling you in protective services. If you receive a communication that is unexpected or looks at all suspicious, and seeks information or funds, do not respond directly but instead contact Equifax or the company purportedly trying to reach you by using trusted contact information you know will legitimately reach their place of business.
Data breaches are tremendously disruptive for businesses and may have an acute effect on consumers. Fortunately, you have a number of resources and options to choose from in protecting yourself and your family from serious harm and further risk.
Jacob A. Lopes is a member of the Wyrick Robbins Privacy & Data Security practice group.