Do these three things if you are affected by the Equifax breach
On September 7th, roughly half the adult population of the United States learned that they were victims of identity theft. The criminals stole social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, addresses, and credit numbers from Equifax, one of the three credit reporting agencies that involuntarily aggregate consumer credit information. Equifax deployed inadequate cybersecurity measures, waited six weeks to alert consumers, and three executives who allegedly did not know of the breach sold $2m worth of stock prior to alerting consumers. In response, Equifax is offering free credit monitoring services to consumers for one year.
Everyone now knows someone who’s a victim of identity theft.
This is a breach that will live with Americans for decades as we cannot change our social security numbers. It is unconscionable and irresponsible to offer a meager year of a service that will tell consumers that their identities have been stolen and misused by criminals. It’s then up to the consumers to sort it out.
Here are three things that you can do today to prevent this breach from affecting you and your family.
1. Go check your credit report immediately. As of September 8th, 2017, the criminals have had six weeks to use your personal information to open fraudulent accounts. This is a free service - https://www.annualcreditreport.com/ will provide reports from all three credit reporting bureaus. If you find errors, immediately appeal them – each bureau has instructions on their credit report.
2. Freeze your credit reports. This costs $10-$15 per bureau and is a one-time fee. A frozen credit report is only available to victims of identity theft, which is now half of the country. My credit reports have been frozen for years now since I was a victim of identity theft during my divorce; the only inconvenience is that I need to temporarily unfreeze my reports when I want to change jobs or apply for a credit card. I’ve done each of those once in the past decade. Unfreezing a credit report is less of a nuisance than the weeks required in contesting falsified address and credit card information.
The FTC has information on credit report freezes at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs .
Freeze your Equifax report: https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
Freeze your Experian report: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
Freeze your Transunion report: https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze
The other advantage of a frozen credit report is that no one can use it to apply for credit. Ever. This is better than a credit monitoring service for which you can pay a monthly fee to learn that your identity has been stolen and misused. A freeze prevents the misuse.
3. Join a class action lawsuit against Equifax in your state. The meager retroactive protections provided by Equifax are likely going to require that you not participate in a lawsuit or will require arbitration rather than litigation. The failure of Equifax to deploy adequate cybersecurity defenses given the predatory nature of their business is reprehensible given the extent of harm this will cause to consumers and the broader economy.
ClassAction.org has a full list of all class-action lawsuits filed against Equifax. Many of these will only require consumers opt out rather than requiring consumers to opt in.
Consumers should not accept this breach as ‘business as usual’ and accept an inadequate settlement offer from a company that has created an environment of harm for half the American population. If you do not freeze your credit report, you can anticipate falsified tax returns for years to come as criminals use your stolen identity to fraudulently steal tax refunds. You can similarly anticipate a lowered credit score as criminals open and then use credit cards and loans in your name.
Once you’ve completed these steps for yourself, share this article with a friend or a family member – because they’re likely also a victim of identity theft.