Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft After The Equifax Data Hack

What we know about the Equifax data breach:

The Equifax data breach affected an estimated 143 million people and hackers had access to their data from May to July of 2017. The company discovered the hack on July 29 but did not announce it publicly until September 7th. Hackers had access to and likely have stolen Social Security numbers, birth dates, home addresses, driver’s licenses, credit card numbers and perhaps other information as well. This type of information can be used to exploit your identity and someone can use that data to open accounts under your name.

How does Equifax even have this information?

When you take out a loan or open a line of credit, your creditor sends this information to any of the credit reporting bureaus. The information your creditors send may include your personal information including how much credit you have available, when and how you pay your bills, when your bills are due and if any of your credit accounts are delinquent. The credit bureaus then create a file containing all of this information that new creditors can request when you seek out another loan or line of credit.

What should you do if you think your data could have been affected?

Equifax has set up a website for you to check and see if your personal information was affected.

Check to see if your personal information may have been affected here: Equifax Cybersecurity Incident

After you have submitted your last name and the last 6 digits of your social security number, they will show you whether it is likely that your information was compromised. Either way, personal information stolen or not, Equifax is offering a year of their TrustedID Premier credit monitoring service for free. Equifax is not requiring that you submit any credit card information to enroll in this service so you don’t have to worry about cancelling before an auto-renewal date when your free year has expired.

There have been articles written stating, if you use the free year of credit monitoring offered by Equifax, that you may be limiting any legal options you may want to consider pursuing in the future. In response, Equifax has stated that the language of the Terms of Use at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com has been updated and they “will not apply any arbitration clause or class action waiver against consumers for claims related to the free products offered in response to the cybersecurity incident or for claims related to the cybersecurity incident itself.” As always, carefully read the fine print regarding these terms before signing up.

What about the other ID theft protection services?

Lifelock.com is one of the more popular services, but one Sitejabber member writes, “As a member of LifeLock, I had several attempts by ID thieves to obtain credit cards using my information. I called to speak to the agents there and was surprised that they had no clue as to what had happened. Don’t they claim to be a protection against that sort of activity? They didn’t inform me as to the attempts, in fact I informed them and asked them why they didn’t know about these attempts and all they could say was that they were glad that I had informed them.” – Bernard C

Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, also has an ID theft plan that costs $19.99 per month. If you do enroll in a theft protection program be sure to know how much the service is going to cost, how often you’ll have to pay and what the cancellation policy and procedure entails. Here is the experience of a Sitejabber member who signed up for Experian ID Theft Protection, “I had a horrible experience with this site. They promised a $1 charge to check my credit report and then they started charging money from my account every month…after 3 months they accepted my cancellation request.” – Lilly O

The most common complaint about credit monitoring services seems to be how difficult the cancellation process is. A Sitejabber member writes about TransUnion credit protection, “They give you the run around when you want to cancel. Cancelling is really hard to find on their website.” – Jesse A

The good news about ID theft protection programs is that most of them offer up to $1M in insurance to cover the costs associated with restoring your identity and repairing credit reports. You may also want to check if your homeowners insurance policy includes identity theft protection as more and more companies are including this.

Step-by-step guide to monitoring and protecting your data:

  1. The first thing to do is to check your current credit score and make sure nothing out of the ordinary has happened. AnnualCreditReport.com is a free service you can use for this. They have a 4-star rating on Sitejabber and our users write that, “I literally just got my Experian and Transunion credit reports from this site with no problems at all. I’m shocked actually, because I’d researched it and I always expect a scam or a bait-and-switch. Nope, put in my info, asked me some verifying questions, opened up the reports and I saved them to my computer.” – Deidre A
  2. Sign up with a free credit check site so that you can see your score and look at open accounts and lines of credit.
  3. Put a freeze on your credit to minimize the likelihood of your credit being used fraudulently. Freezing your credit means placing restrictions on who can view your credit report. If someone other than you tries to open a new credit card under your name, a credit check will need to be processed. If a credit check cannot be confirmed, most banks will not issue a new line of credit. In order to freeze your credit, visit the websites of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You can also call Equifax (1-800-349-9960), Experian (1‑888‑397‑3742) or TransUnion (1-888-909-8872) directly. There may be a small fee involved in freezing your credit and you will be given a pin number to unfreeze your credit if you need to apply for a loan or similar situation. More information on freezing your credit can be found at PrivacyRights.org
  4. You can pay for an ID theft protection service. While we’ve outlined some of the pitfalls of identity theft protection services, there are very good reasons to use one. Having a report where you can continually view your open lines of credit is a great way to monitor your credit. They also provide valuable information on how you can improve your credit score.
  5. Read reviews on Sitejabber about Equifax, Experian, TransUnion and LifeLock. You can also use Sitejabber to read about malicious websites that may be collecting information from you under the guise of ID theft protection.
  6. If you are unsure about a website, including ecommerce sites, be very careful if you’re required to disclose an unreasonable amount of personal information. Also, be extremely cautious of websites that try to get you to wire them money and ask for your banking information. All of these types of activities can be used in ID theft. For example, “My daughter used passportusa.org to fill out her passport form online. They charged her $27 for a FREE form & gathered all her information. Sad…Now we are going to have to watch closely to make sure her identity is not stolen.” – Erica G

These are dangerous times and we hope you will share your experiences with the various credit agencies and other credit sites on Sitejabber so we can all learn and protect ourselves.