Thomas Tips: The Equifax Data Breach

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Photo of credit cards and padlock for data breach advice story

The September 2017 announcement of the Equifax data breach caused great concern for clients and friends who have questions about identity theft. While I normally focus on local lifestyle and real estate articles in my blog, I thought I would make an exception given the gravity of the situation and the potential impact to your ability to qualify for a home loan in the future.

I just updated this blog article because a settlement has been reached which allows the estimated 145 million people impacted by the breach to file online and receive payment and / or credit monitoring services. You may access the site here to file your claim:

What Happened?

On September 7, 2017 the credit bureau Equifax reported that hackers broke into their database and stole extremely sensitive information for more than half of all Americans. This information includes names, social security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers. In short, it’s an identity thief’s dream and is by far the most serious data breach to date. It is a serious cyber crime.

Why Should You Care?

With the above information, hackers can impersonate you in the financial world. They can apply for loans, credit cards and even open bank accounts in your name. They can destroy your credit rating and cause you to spend precious hours of your time working to repair it. It’s much better to prevent identity theft than to try to fix it once it has happened.

Were You Affected?

Equifax’s initial response has been widely criticized, but they have finally created a working website that allows you to quickly check to see if your information was compromised. You may visit this page on the Equifax site to find out if you were part of the breach. You can visit this Equifax page and click on “Check Potential Impact” to see if your information was part of this massive breach.

What Should You Do?

I can tell you what I decided to do and why, and you can make your own decision based on your own research. If in question, seek professional advice. You can visit this Equifax page to read their advice.

There are several options I considered. I chose option three:

  1. You can subscribe to a credit monitoring service such as Lifelock, which will notify you of new credit inquiries on your account and will provide assistance in the event your identity is stolen. These services do not, however, prevent thieves from applying for credit in your name, so by the time you are notified that may have already happened. I decided it is akin to closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.
  2. Another option is to place a “fraud alert” on your credit file, which informs potential creditors that your identity may have been compromised, and asks them to call you before approving credit in your name. There is no requirement that they do call you and this option still allows potential creditors to pull your credit report for anyone with your identifying information. If you decide to go this route, you initiate a fraud alert with one of the three major credit bureaus, and they inform the other two bureaus.
  3. The option which most are recommending is to place a “credit freeze” on your file at the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Transunion) and a smaller bureau called Innovis. This locks your credit file to any new creditor, while allowing existing creditors to continue to view it. The process is a bit different by bureau, but the good news is in most cases can be handled online. Based on recent legislation, placing and lifting credit freezes is now free. 

Here are the details and links by bureau:

  1. TransUnion: As stated above, the TrueIdentity free service allows you to lock and unlock your report with your smart phone. They also provide a more traditional credit freeze service.
  2. Equifax: Equifax allows you to set up a free credit freeze and provides a pin number which must be used to unlock your report before applying for credit. They have also rolled out an app called “Lock & Alert” which allows you to instantly lock and unlock you report via your mobile phone. You may visit their freeze page here.
  3. Experian: Experian as of this writing does not have an app that allows you to instantly lock and unlock your report for free. If you subscribe to their credit monitoring services, they do provide this functionality.  Visit their freeze page here.
  4. Innovis: Much smaller Innovis has made it extremely simple to freeze your report. Their online form is free, instantaneous and takes about 3 minutes to complete. Visit the Innovis freeze page here.

If you suspect you may already be the victim of identity theft, or just want to see your credit reports to put your mind at ease, please visit the Federal Trade Commission Free Credit Reports page.

Again, I am not an expert, but we spent a fair amount of time in our household researching options. I hope the above is of some help as you decide what to do about the Equifax security breach. Feel free to leave your own comments and suggestions in the section below.

As always, I am happy to help you with any real estate questions or needs. I am your advocate and that means helping you make sure your personal information is protected and your credit file is accurate. Should you have any real estate-related questions or needs, please call or text me at 415-847-5584 and I will be in touch right away.

Further Reading:

Why you probably won’t actually get $125 from the Equifax settlement

The Federal Trade Commission: The Equifax Data Breach – What to Do

The Federal Trade Commission: Identity Theft

The Federal Trade Commission: Correcting Errors on Credit Reports

Krebs on Security: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Credit Freeze

State of California: Identity Theft Victim Checklist

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