How To Protect Yourself From the Equifax Data Breach

Did you catch Thursday's news dump from Equifax?

That's right, Equifax, one of our country's three major credit reporting bureaus, announced hackers gained access to 143 million consumers' sensitive information including Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers.

To make matters worse, Equifax has known about this for a few months and decided to drop the news mid-afternoon on a Thursday while we were distracted by hurricane Irma coverage.

Yeah…not a good look.

So what should you do?

Here are the exact steps I took to protect myself:

1. Freeze your credit reports

The first step I took was placing a freeze on all three credit reports.

Security freezes restricts access, preventing lenders or credit card companies from conducting the inquiry necessary to approve a new line of credit.

You can do this online or by phone in less than 20 minutes:

The cost varies by state and ranges from free to $10 per report.

Equifax is currently free. How generous!

According to the FTC, freezes can be temporarily lifted within three business days. You should plan ahead for this timeline if you need access to these reports in the future.

Tip: You will either select or be provided with a PIN for each report. Be sure to print this screen as it may be difficult to retrieve later. 

I also froze my credit report from Innovis, a lesser known fourth credit bureau. This one was free and only took a few minutes. You can do this here.

2. Check all three credit reports for suspicious activity

It's been a few months since this breach initially happened. You can access all three reports—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax—once per year for free from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Watch for new accounts, late payments on debt that doesn't look familiar, and anything you don't recognize. If you notice anything suspicious, contact that company's fraud department immediately.

You can also submit a complaint to the FTC here.

After that, you can use a free third-party company like Credit Sesame (my affiliate link) to keep an eye on your score. They also offer $50,000 of free identity theft insurance.

Note: I personally use Credit Sesame, and the one negative is the amount of email you will start receiving. They explain how to unsubscribe from these messages here.

3. Set up fraud alerts

If freezing your credit doesn't feel like the right move, I recommend setting up fraud alerts with each credit bureau.

Fraud alerts require creditors to verify your identity before a new line of credit can be opened. This doesn't offer the same level of protection as a security freeze, but creditors will have to take extra steps to confirm your identity.

Setting up a fraud alert with one of the credit bureaus requires them to inform the other two companies. 

There are two types of fraud alerts:

  • Initial fraud alerts mean credit reporting agencies will keep the alert on your accounts for 90 days. After that, you can renew or it will be removed.
  • Extended fraud alerts last for seven years. Creditors will be required to contact you to verify you are the one requesting a line of credit.

Here is the direct link for each of the bureaus:

4. Update passwords and enable 2FA

If you haven't been updating your passwords regularly, now is the perfect time to start. I updated all of mine with unique passwords generated by 1Password.

I plan to change them every six months going forward.

I have also added 2-factor authentication to every account that didn't already have it. This adds a second step—like a code via text—to your login process.

Additional steps may include changing your user ID and security questions.

Avoid using your first + last name or email address for a user ID.

And don't use questions with answers on public record (ex. father's middle name or city you were born) or questions with limited answers (ex. favorite color).

5. Know the signs of identity theft

Identity theft can result in a number of major issues. Someone can empty your bank account, use your credit cards, open utilities in your name, have medical treatments with your health insurance, or file a fraudulent tax return.

IdentityTheft.gov offers a number of signs to watch for:

  • Unauthorized withdrawals in your bank account
  • Not receiving bills
  • Checks being refused
  • Calls from collectors agencies about debt that doesn't belong to you
  • Strange accounts on your credit report
  • Medical bills for services you haven't user
  • Health insurance rejects claims because you have already reached your benefits limit
  • Medical records show pre-existing condition you don't have
  • More than one tax return has been filed in your name and one includes income from a place you don't work
  • Notices your information may have been compromised

5. Sign up for Equifax's identity protection program

Even if your information hasn't been compromised, you can enroll in Equifax's identity protection program—TrustedID Premier—for free for one year.

Trusted ID Premier includes:

  • Access to your Equifax credit report
  • Credit monitoring and alerts for all three bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion 
  • Equifax credit report lock
  • Social Security number monitoring
  • Up to $1 million in identify theft insurance

Many have expressed concerns about the ability to enroll in TrustedID Premier and participate in a class-action lawsuit later.

Amid growing public concerns, Equifax confirmed on Sunday enrolling in this program won't prohibit you from taking legal action.

Personally, I am happy to accept one year of free enrollment.

I was given a date to sign up and received this confirmation when I returned.

confirmation screen with check mark

6. Spread the word to family and friends

Breaches like this can feel overwhelming

Because Equifax may be notifying those impacted by snail mail, you may want to share these resources with the less tech-savvy folks in your life.

Let's face it—the Equifax breach has merely highlighted what we have known all along—we are on our own when it comes to identity theft protection.

Do my actions seem extreme? Maybe.

But you know what isn't keeping me awake at night? The Equifax data breach.

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