Thursday, September 14, 2017

What you need to know after the Equifax data breach

This is a lengthy article and contains a large amount of very useful information for you and yours. Please make sure you have at least 5 minutes to give it your full attention when reading it.

It’s tough writing about the Equifax data breach because it’s a bona fide Pandora’s Box. Every day a new, more upsetting fact comes to light. So, I will give you the information on how things are to date, and what you can do to protect yourself.

What we know to date
Between May and July 2017 databases belonging to Equifax, the world’s largest credit

bureau underwent a malicious attack that intended to steal consumer personal data.

Hackers gathered credit report data of 143 million consumers in the US, as well as information on consumers in Canada and the UK.

What was copied? Names, Social Security Numbers (or ITINs), birth dates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers.

Were account numbers stolen too? Yes, full information was copied of 209,000 credit cards, plus claim data pertaining to an additional 182,000 consumers which included personal information and account numbers.

How to find out if your data was stolen
Equifax has put at consumers’ disposal a link where you enter your last name and the last

six digits of your SSN/TIN and you find out whether your profile was breached or not. When you access the site, click the "Potential Impact" to check on your specific data.

The catch is that this page isn’t providing reliable results. A Twitter accountholder used the last name “Test” and as last six digits of his social “123456” and that profile was reported back to him to potentially have been exposed in the breach. Judge by yourself if you trust the results you get.

But you do have the option to take matters into your own hands. You can put a fraud alert on your credit reports from all three credit bureaus. A fraud alert is offered to those who are or fear becoming victims of identity theft, and it’s a free service guaranteed under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA). Fraud alerts are free, and placed in two steps. First you start by placing a temporary fraud alert, which lasts for three months. After it expires and, if you have been a victim of some sort of identity theft, with a police report to the fact you will be able to extend that fraud alert for a period of seven years more. This extended fraud alert means you will not be prequalified on any loan offers in the next five years and that, when you personally apply for credit during that period, lenders will have to call you to confirm your identity before extending credit. Here are the fraud alert sites:

If you receive the Equifax letter that says your credit card/claim data was breached

At that point you will have to declare those credit cards stolen. I would recommend that

while you’re at it, you put fraud alerts on your credit reports at Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

To cancel your OAS FCU credit cards you can call (727) 570-4888 or (800)423-7503. Both numbers are 24/7.

If the Equifax link test says that your data was compromised, you have four options

Option 1: Monitor your own credit report for free
US law makes it possible for you to get one free credit report per year. The thing is, you can get any of your three credit reports at one time, and you need not get them all at the same time. Therefore if you want to keep an eye on your credit history, you could request your credit report now from, say, Experian; in four months you could get the one from Equifax, and, in eight months, request the one from TransUnion. This gives you three free credit history checkups a year. If you want to go this way, there is one single US government-authorized website to request your credit reports, Annual Credit Report.

There are identity protection agencies that provide free credit monitoring but I cannot

recommending trusting one of them exclusively. According to Consumer Reports none of these services is thorough enough to provide complete protection.

Option 2. Monitoring your credit report for a monthly or yearly fee
I’ve researched this, and here are, according to NextAdvisor (reputedly the best online service rating agency in existence), the best credit monitoring services available:

The first service actually comes to us highly recommended from elsewhere as well, because of its ease of use and for offering the best value for the money. The service is IdentityWorks® by Experian (the rating on NextAdvisor is 4.5 stars). It monitors all three credit reports, warns you of any credit requests, and provides all sorts of alerts regarding changes to your credit report. It costs $99 a year or $13 a month if you pay it monthly.

The second service, which has 5 stars on NextAdvisor, is IdentityGuard by Watson®. It monitors all three credit reports as well, and provides access to all three of your FICO scores. It’s a bit pricier than IdentityWorks for individual use, at $17 a month per person, but they do provide discounted couples and family packages.

Option 3. Going with Equifax
Equifax is now providing a one year free membership to TrustedId, the identity theft protection service. After the 1-year period is over, it will cost $10 a month. It isn’t credit monitoring, but offers adequate protection nonetheless.

Option 4. Freezing your credit
It’s another paid option, but also a good one. There’s the possibility of stopping access to

your credit report, just like that. If you freeze it, the only people who will have access to your credit report are representatives of the US government, and that only with a subpoena. A freeze stays on as long as you like it to stay; and if you do want to apply for any type of loan, you can remove the freeze temporary or permanently. The block costs between $5 and $10, based on the credit bureau and where you live and there are also nominal charges for removing the freeze temporarily. Visit these sites to freeze your credit with...
This is all I have to report for now, and it is a lot. With luck, your data will not have been compromised. Either way, at least now you have the information that can help you protect yourself and your family. Good luck!

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