Concerned about the Equifax Data Breach?
Yes, it is alarming; the Equifax data breach may have exposed more than half the adults in this country, as many as 143 million, to identity theft and financial fraud. Names, social security numbers, birthdates, and other information including some credit card numbers were stolen from their data system. Unfortunately, there have been so many data breaches in recent months and years, people are becoming numb and complacent. However, this is not the time to be so preoccupied with football, politics, or life in general, to postpone taking action to protect your personal information and finances. Be aware:
- Equifax is routing consumers to a special webpage or telephone number to sign up for their one-year of free credit and identity theft monitoring. However, be advised that their free service agreement also includes a special arbitration clause –a statement that would waive your right to participate in any class-action lawsuits that may arise from this incident.
- Take a couple minutes to inform yourself of the importance of your Credit Report, and the simple steps you can take to check and protect your records.
- Read and sign up for the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information Blog at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017. There are three current blogs related to identity protection, freezing your credit, and being aware and prepared for telephone or email scams following this most recent breach.
- If your identity has been stolen and used fraudulently, the FTC also has a 40 page free downloadable booklet, Identity Theft – A Recovery Plan. Act immediately to notify the credit bureaus, your bank and credit card companies in relation to the information and accounts that may be compromised.
Identity or Credit Monitoring
You may want to consider identity or other credit monitoring services many companies offer after a data breach. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau advises that identity monitors scan personally identifiable information in credit applications, public records, websites, and other places for any unusual activity that could be signs of identity theft. Some services may also help you watch for problems, such as a credit monitoring service that watches your credit reports and alerts you to changes to the accounts listed on your credit report. If you’re offered or considering an identity monitoring or credit monitoring service, make sure you check for trial periods, fees, cancellation requirements, and other restrictions so you don’t face unexpected fees, charges, or other limitations. If you’re having trouble with a financial product or service, you can submit a complaint with the CFPB online or call (855) 411-CFPB (2372). Do your homework before you buy.
There are key differences between a Credit or Security Freeze and a Fraud Alert. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has this advice concerning free and low-cost options for additional protection from identity theft.
A security freeze on your credit report generally prevents new credit and accounts from being opened in your name. You can place a freeze on your credit file at any time, but you must contact each credit reporting company.
How it works – When there is a freeze, creditors can’t access your reporting file and therefore won’t offer new credit. This helps prevent identity thieves from opening fraudulent accounts in your name. However, this also means you won’t be able to apply for credit as easily if you were planning to open a new account or apply for a loan.
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. A fraud alert doesn’t prevent a lender from opening credit in your name in the same way a freeze does, but it does require that lenders take additional steps to verify your identity first. When you place a fraud alert on your credit report at one of the nationwide credit reporting companies, it must notify the others.
How it works – There are two types of fraud alerts. Initial fraud alerts: Credit reporting companies will keep the alert on your file for 90 days. After 90 days the initial fraud alert will expire and be removed, and you can place another one if you want. Extended alerts: An extended alert is for identity theft victims and is good for seven years. It requires that creditors contact you through the phone number or other contact method you designate to verify you’re the person making the credit request.