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Equifax data breach: What you need to do

October 04, 2017 02:31 PM

The Equifax breach is bad - really bad. That's because Equifax is a credit reporting agency, and it holds the personal information of everyone in the country who has ever had credit. Did you finance your car? Do you have a mortgage? Do you have a credit card? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have credit. And if you have credit, Equifax has your sensitive information.

In September, Equifax revealed that hackers stole the sensitive information of 143 million people.  Then three weeks later, the company revealed hackers may have stolen the personal information of an additional 2.5 million more. That’s half the country.  And thieves have stolen the trifecta – names, social security numbers and birth dates.  But that's not all. Thieves also got addresses and in some cases driver's licenses too. That's all thieves need to steal your identity. I checked, and I’m among the millions affected. Here's my step-by-step guide to protect your personal information.

First check the Equifax website to see if your personal information has been compromised. You type in your name and the last six digits of your social security number.

When I did, I got this message telling me information may have been compromised. That’s not good. Rick Smith, Chairman and CEO of Equifax said the company is going to help.

"We're taking the unprecedented step of offering every U.S. consumer in the country a comprehensive package of identity theft protection and credit file monitoring at no cost," said Smith.

But that statement wasn’t entirely accurate. Initially the company’s credit monitoring did have a cost. In the fine print of its terms of use agreement, Equifax required consumers to sign away our right to sue in exchange for its "free" credit monitoring.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was among many state and federal leaders who argued, “The victims of this breach shouldn't also have to worry that they've waived their legal rights simply because they were trying to protect themselves."

Equifax backed down. You can now get credit monitoring without waiving your right to sue. Sign up for it online.

It takes only minutes.  Within 48 hours you should receive an email from TrustedID Premier, the company through which Equifax is providing credit monitoring.  The email has a link allowing you to activate your free service.  But many News10NBC viewers have told us many have waited for days and still haven’t gotten the email to activate their credit monitoring   News10NBC reached out to Equifax for comment.  A spokesman told us, “We are aware of a number of consumers who have signed up for TrustedID Premier and are experiencing delays in receiving confirmation email containing next steps and activation links. We apologize for the delay and can assure consumers they will receive their confirmation. We are in the process of informing affected individuals via email of our efforts to resolve the delays.”

While a year of free credit monitoring is helpful, experts agree it’s not enough. We will be at risk for years to come. Schneiderman, as well as most experts, advise you to freeze your credit. While not foolproof, credit freeze is the best way to prevent lenders from having access to your credit report and thieves from opening new lines of credit in your name. You’ll be given a PIN to which only you will have access. You can use the PIN to give a lender access if you so choose.

You can easily freeze your credit with each of the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Transunion, and Experian online by phone or mail.

Equifax online 

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By mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail.

  • By phone: 1-800-349-9960
     
  • Use the following address:
    Equifax Security Freeze
    P.O. Box 105788
    Atlanta, GA. 30348

Transunion online

By phone: 1-888-909-8872

By mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail

  • Use the following address:
    TransUnion LLC
    P.O. Box 2000
    Chester, PA 19016

Experian online

By mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail.

  • By phone: 1-888-397-3742
     
  • Use the following address: 
    Experian Security Freeze
    P.O. Box 9554
    Allen, TX 75013

Online is by far the easiest method. Type in the information then pay a fee of $10 or less.  It took me less than 15 minutes.  But consumers have been reporting sporadic site problems because of the number of consumers attempting to freeze their credit.  Be patient.  Try during off-peak hours.  The sites crash more frequently in early evening when more consumers are attempting to log on. 

Equifax tweeted that it will freeze your credit report for free after being hounded by angry consumers on twitter. In a video message, Smith apologized for the breach.

"I deeply regret this incident, and I apologize to every consumer and all of our partners,” he said.

As consumers, we have work to do.  With the help of New York Attorney General Schneiderman and a number of consumer advocates, here's Deanna's Do List.


1. Closely monitor credit cards, bank accounts and your 401k.  With your personal information, thieves may be able to get access to all of them.

2.  In addition to freezing your credit, also sign up for Credit Karma. It only monitors TransUnion, but it's free.

3. Check your credit reports by visiting annualcreditreport.com. It's also free.

4.  File your tax return early. Identity thieves will use your social security number to steal your refund. We need to file before they do.

TransUnion leaders contacted News10NBC with a free alternative it offers to freezing your credit. Please see the statement from TransUnion spokesman David Blumberg:

“TransUnion’s focus is on assisting consumers concerned about the Equifax incident and ensuring our systems are secure. Most consumers want to be assured their information is safe. We’re encouraged to see a rise in consumers taking greater control of their own credit information by reviewing their credit report, enrolling in monitoring and choosing to lock their own credit information via our free service, www.TrueIdentity.com.  

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Consumers should be aware of the options available, especially if they are planning on applying for credit in the near future. We encourage consumers to visit the following website – https://www.transunion.com/equifax-data-breach-faqs – for more information on how to protect their identity.

For example, it’s important for consumers to understand that they can exercise their right to a free credit report from all three credit bureaus every year. Consumers can visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com for a free report. This is often the best way to see if there’s unusual activity like a new account or new or different personal information or inquiries from lenders that they may not recognize.

At TransUnion, consumers also can temporarily prevent lenders and others from accessing their credit by locking it themselves or by having TransUnion freeze their account for them. While we are seeing an increase in freezes, we’re encouraged to see a rise in consumers choosing to lock their credit files as an alternative to a freeze.  More information about locking or freezing can be found on our website, but please find additional information about both practices below.

Locking their TransUnion credit report gives the consumer online, real time control over whether a lender can get their credit report to open a new account, and there is no fee for this service. Consumers can enroll in our TrueIdentity service for free – no credit card required – and they’ll have access to their TransUnion credit report with the ability to lock and unlock their credit easily while receiving free monitoring alerts. 

A credit freeze also is available under state law, and may be accessed by phone or by mail for consumers who do not have internet access.  Depending on the state in which the consumer lives, a consumer can prevent creditors and other entities from accessing their credit report. Consumers will need to remember their PIN and again based on state law, may have a waiting period when they wish to unfreeze the file in order to apply for credit or other services.  Please note that consumers will need to place a security freeze separately with each of the three major credit reporting companies. There also may be a fee for placing or lifting a freeze, or for obtaining a replacement PIN, based on state law. A security freeze remains on a consumer’s credit file until they remove it and they will need to plan ahead and contact any credit bureau with whom they place a freeze before applying for new credit.

More information on the difference between a lock and a freeze can be found at https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze."

News10NBC asked Equifax to address consumer complaints that they were having difficulty logging onto the website to request a credit freeze.  Equifax spokesman, Wyatt Jeffries emailed the following response:

We are experiencing a high volume of requests for security freezes, and have experienced some technical issues. We are working diligently to ensure an improved consumer experience.

Here’s what consumers should know about placing security freezes:

If they request a security freeze online: Equifax does not currently email or mail the individual 10-digit PIN to consumers. It is available on the screen, and the consumer is asked to print the PIN from the screen. Our technology team is aware of some limited situations in which consumers are unable to view their PINs.  We have identified that this is caused by their browser settings. We are working on a fix for this issue.

If they request a security freeze over the phone or via U.S. Mail: Equifax will mail consumers their individual, 10-digit PIN to consumers at the address on file.

Credits

Deanna Dewberry

Copyright 2017 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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