You may have heard of the big Equifax breach from your parents, friends, or co-workers.
So what is this mysterious company and why is its data breach a big deal?
Remember when we talked about credit scores?
Equifax is one of the three companies that tracks your credit history. The others are TransUnion and Experian. Your credit score is determined by the reports that these agencies create.
Why all the fuss?
There are a couple of things that make this data breach potentially worse than others.
- The number of people affected is pretty huge. About 143 million Americans’ information was exposed during the hack. That’s almost HALF of the total US population.
- Because Experian tracks people’s credit, it has access to basically every important piece of everyone’s personal financial information. This includes Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and bank accounts, along with addresses, birthdates and driver’s license numbers. With these details, someone could easily steal your identity and take out loans or make big purchases in your name.
What should I do?
- Go to experiansecurity2017.com, the ONLY official site to check whether you’ve been affected, and enter your last name and Social Security number. It will inform you whether your information might have been compromised.
- Even if you are not over 18, it is a good idea to check whether you’ve been affected because children have Social Security numbers, even if they have never held a line of credit. Someone using your SSN could ruin your credit before you ever have a chance to build it.
- If you have been affected, pull your credit reports from annualcreditreport.com and check them carefully for errors.
- Also look over statements for any credit cards you have and check for fraudulent purchases.
- Contact the credit bureaus — all three of them — to freeze your credit. This will temporarily prevent ANYONE from opening a new line of credit in your name, including yourself. If you want to open a new line of credit, like a credit card or loan, before the freeze period ends, you’ll have to unfreeze it. Depending on the state in which you live this may cost $10 – $30, and you may have to pay to unfreeze it, too.
- Equifax is offering affected customers a free year of credit monitoring. At first, it seemed that signing up for this service would also prevent you from potentially suing Equifax in the future, but the contract has since been amended so that it no longer implies this. Signing up for the service will only freeze your credit from Equifax, so you’ll have to request a freeze from the other two separately. Whether or not to take Equifax up on its offer is definitely a personal call.
- Be vigilant. Check your credit reports regularly, which you should be doing anyway, and keep an eye out for anything suspicious.
If any good comes out of this data breach, let it be a reminder to all of us to pay attention to our finances and not let them be “out of sight, out of mind”.