If you have been dragging your feet about the Equifax data breach, now is the time to take action to protect yourself.
It has been almost 9 months since a data breach at Equifax put the identities of 145 million Americans at risk for theft and fraud. For those whose information was stolen and used, the process to recover their identities has been a nightmare. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to ensure you are protected by taking the following steps:
1. Determine if you were impacted
By entering your name and the last six digits of your social security number at Equifax’s data breach site, you can check if your information was impacted. The site does not return a definite yes or no, instead only informing you if your data was likely impacted by the breach. So even showing up as impacted doesn’t necessarily mean your data was compromised.
2. Get a copy of all three of your credit reports
If you haven’t made a request in 12 months, AnnualCreditReport.com can provide you a copy of reports from all three bureaus. Even if you have to pay, the expense is more than worth it to identify and fraud currently on your files. DO NOT sign up for Equifax’s Trust ID credit monitoring unless you are willing to waive your right to litigate. If you aren’t concerned with any future litigation or settlements, you can sign up for Equifax’s TrustID monitoring service, but you must apply by January 31st, 2018.
3. Sign-up for a credit monitoring service
There are some great free credit monitoring websites where you can monitor your credit, receive full updated credit reports, and sign-up for identity theft insurance. While many are limited to one or two bureaus, these services will send you notifications of any future changes to your reports, whether they be account openings or inquiries.
4. Consider a credit freeze
A credit freeze adds an additional layer of security to your credit reports, a personal pin number, and only allows access to your reports to someone with this pin number. This is a great way to prevent someone from opening new accounts in your name, while having no impact on your current accounts. Check out this great guide from Clark Howard on how to place a freeze on your credit report for all three bureaus.
5. Know your rights
A breach of this nature means you can be vulnerable for years. Not only are there the potential costs of credit disputes, fraud, and credit monitoring services, but negative information on your credit report can lead to higher scores and the higher interest rates that come with them, even while you wait for an issue to be resolved. There is also the additional stress and personal time (which has value) that is spent making sure you are secure. You have rights if you want to sue Equifax, including individual and small claims lawsuits, however class and regulatory actions are more likely to produce a settlement. Throughout the country, class action lawsuits have been filed calling for better security measures and demanding payment to the victims of the breach. Most of these suits do not require any action on the part the impacted consumer. There are risks to joining class actions however, and if you have already been significantly impacted by this credit breach, you may instead want to opt out of any class actions and contact a lawyer for your own personal lawsuit. For information on some of the class actions suits that have been filed see below:
If you have been impacted by the breach, the most important thing to remember is don’t panic. They may be a hassle, but there are plenty of safeguards and procedures in place to prevent you from being on the hook for any fraudulent activity. Even if you haven’t been affected, taking the time to check and monitor your credit is one of the most important personal finance steps you can take.