WASHINGTON — Equifax recently reported a data breach that exposed 143 million consumers’ sensitive personal information. Here is what you need to know about the breach and how you can best protect yourself.
Equifax is one of three major consumer reporting agencies; Experian and TransUnion are the other two. Equifax is the only agency reporting a data breach as of today.
Credit reporting agencies are companies that assemble and store consumer credit information. They use this information to furnish consumer reports to third parties. These third parties, often businesses, can then use the reports to evaluate consumers’ credit worthiness.
The data breach occurred from mid-May through July, according to Equifax. The breach is potentially dangerous because of the nature of the consumer information Equifax stored. The credit agency said that hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers.
According to Equifax, more than 143 million American consumers had sensitive personal information exposed in the data breach, and many individuals in Canada and the United Kingdom also had personal information exposed.
This is important because criminals could use this stolen data to engage in identity theft — using your personal information without your permission to commit fraud. This could include accessing your open accounts or opening new accounts in your name.
There are several steps you can take to address concerns regarding fraud or identity theft.
Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, every consumer has a right to review one free copy of his or her credit report each year from each of the three agencies. To do so, you can go to www.annualcreditreport.com.
You can enter information there and review/print a copy of the credit report, or you can print out a request form and mail it to receive a free copy of your credit report by mail.
Look for anything on your credit report that is inaccurate, such as accounts you did not open, incorrect personal information, credit inquiries from companies you have never contacted and wrong amounts showing on your accounts in your credit report.
You can place a security freeze on your credit report. When there is a freeze, creditors cannot access your reporting file and, therefore, cannot offer new credit. This helps prevent identity thieves from opening fraudulent accounts in your name.
However, it also means you will not be able to apply for credit without unfreezing your account. This could delay the time it takes for you to apply for credit, such as a mortgage or car loan. You can place a freeze on your credit file at any time, but you must contact each of the three major agencies to do so.
You can place a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert requires creditors to take steps to verify your identity before opening a new account, issuing an additional card or increasing the credit limit on an existing account.
There are two types of fraud alerts: an initial fraud alert that the credit reporting agencies will keep on your file for 90 days but expires after that time, which can then be renewed by the consumer; or an extended alert, which is for identity theft victims and is good for seven years.
A fraud alert does not prevent a creditor from opening credit in your name the same way a credit freeze does, but it does require the lender to take additional steps to verify your identity. If you place a fraud alert on your account with one agency, it must notify the other agencies of the alert.
Deploying service members can place an active-duty alert on their credit reports. An active-duty alert means businesses must take extra steps before granting credit in your name. Active-duty alerts last for one year and can be renewed to match the period of deployment.
If you place an active-duty alert on your account with one agency, it must notify the other agencies of the alert.
You can go to a website established by Equifax, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, to determine whether your account was one that may have been compromised in the data breach. If so, you can enroll in credit monitoring and other protection through Equifax’s theft protection and credit monitoring product, TrustedID Premier.
Equifax said it is a complimentary one-year subscription. Whether you are considering TrustedID Premier or a different credit monitoring service, make sure you are aware of the extent of the services offered and any trial periods, fees, cancellation requirements or other possible restrictions, such as mediation and arbitration provisions.
These could affect the services you receive, the cost of services or any remedies you may wish to exercise if you have a dispute with the company providing services.
Because every person’s case is unique, not all of these choices will be right for every consumer. If you have questions about identity theft and what steps to take to protect yourself, call the Fort Bragg Armed Forces legal assistance office at 396-0396 or 396-6113.