It’s been a few weeks since Sterling communicated with you about the data breach at Equifax. Since then, the breach has fallen from the front page of the news despite new information about it coming out every day. We wanted to cut through the noise surrounding the breach and reiterate the important issues and follow up items.
This information applies to everyone in the US, including minor children and those that do not actively use credit cards or online banking. Many experts agree that you should assume your information was part of the breach regardless of what Equifax’s site states.
If you only do one thing:
We’d strongly encourage you to consider each of the items below, but if you only do ONE thing following this post, please check your credit report at one of the three bureaus using this website, verify the accuracy of each item, and monitor your reports routinely going forward.
In case you missed our last communication, Equifax is one of the US’s three major credit reporting agencies. Over the course of several months, hackers were able to access the personal information of over 143 million Americans (almost half of the country), including Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses.
The last week has been eventful for Equifax. Their CEO, Richard Smith, as well as several other executives resigned, and there are many consumer advocacy groups and legislators looking for blame and solutions.
With all of these changes, it is important to review the steps you can take to protect yourself following the data breach.
Further Action Items:
- Check to see if you were exposed by visiting the Equifax Website. However, as we mentioned above, due to Equifax’s unreliability and lack of transparency surrounding notifying those affected by the breach many experts agree that you should assume that your information was part of the breach.
- Equifax is offering a year of free credit monitoring for everyone. We are not endorsing this service, but it is a resource you can look into to see if it fits your needs.
- Consider placing a credit freeze or a fraud alert on your credit.
- Fraud Alert (less secure than Freeze)
- Pros: Free, quick, relatively easy.
- Cons: Only last 90 days, not as effective as freeze since some creditors may ignore it.
- How: Alert one bureau (we suggest TransUnion, 1-800-680-7289) via their automated process. TransUnion will contact the other two agencies on your behalf.
- Freeze (most secure)
- Pros: Always need additional verification before opening credit.
- Cons: High ‘hassle factor’ – Nominal fee for each freeze and thaw in most states, including MN. Must contact each bureau separately. Must thaw credit before opening new accounts.
- How: Learn more here
- Fraud Alert (less secure than Freeze)
- Routinely monitor your credit reports and various bank and credit card accounts for suspicious activity. Notify your bank or credit card company immediately if you notice anything out of the ordinary. Click here to access AnnualCreditReport.com, the only source for free credit reports as authorized by Federal law.
- Consider adding a ChexSystems freeze. Many banks use ChexSystems to screen new customers. Placing a freeze on this system, while not foolproof, can make it harder for scammers to open bank accounts in your name. A freeze can be placed by visiting the ChexSystems website and clicking “place a freeze” under the “Security Freeze” tab.
- Ignore any callers that say they’re from Equifax. As news of the leak has spread, scammers are finding new opportunities to take advantage of the situation. If someone says they are from Equifax and asks for your information, it is a scam.
- Use common sense. Don’t give out your Social Security number, make sure to keep your Social Security card somewhere safe. Shred and safely dispose of confidential documents (raiding a garbage can is easier than hacking a computer). Use strong passwords for your online accounts and change them regularly.
We will continue to send you important updates as the situation moves forward. As always, thank you for your continued trust and confidence. Please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions.
Steve, Megan, & the Sterling Team