The shock of the Equifax data breach has worn off, and the news is very real: The consumer credit reporting agency was hacked this summer and as many as 143 million people had their personal information exposed. The latest Equifax update is that nearly 40 states are investigating the incident, and a bunch of senators have questions as well.
And while those efforts may provide you with a bit of schadenfreude, they won't ultimately help you to find out if your information was leaked or if you need to freeze your credit. You're on your own in solving this problem, but it doesn't need to haunt you forever.
Here's what you can do this weekend about the Equifax hack:
Step 1: Educate yourself. What is Equifax?
One of the big three consumer credit reporting agencies, the Atlanta-based company collects banking and lending data on consumers and businesses that companies use to determine the amount they'll give out in loans or on credit cards. The company has been in business since 1899, and has a vast repository of personally identifying information, including names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and even driver’s license numbers. This sensitive data is exactly the kind of information used in identity theft, which is why this Equifax hack is so alarming people.
Step 2: Find out if your information leaked Equifax
The Equifax breach exposed the information of nearly half the population of the United States. So, flip a coin—that's the likelihood your data is now in hackers' hands.
Unfortunately, one problem in the Equifax dispute is that you have to check with the company to find out if your data was exposed, and that means providing them with even more information (your last name and the last six digits of your social security number). But at the moment, that's the only way to find out if you were affected by Equifax breach. To start the process, Equifax has set up a special website: www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.
Step 3: Enroll in a free year of Equifax credit monitoring
After Equifax checks your status the company will offer a year of its TrustedID Premier credit monitoring for free. Whether your data was exposed or not, take them up on the offer. If your information is at risk, you'll want to keep the company on the hook to keep your finances safe as long as possible. And if your data wasn't touched, it's smart to have Equifax security products standing watch, regardless.
You may have heard a rumor that if you accepted Equifax free credit monitoring, you're forfeiting your right to sue. That's no longer true. Criticism from the public has led Equifax to updated its terms to say "enrolling in the free credit file monitoring... does not prohibit consumers from taking legal action." In fact, if you want to sue Equifax, a programmer even made a chatbot to make filing the paperwork easy for you.
Step 4: Beware Equifax phone scammers
While it's a bit unsettling to handle all this sensitive business online, keep in mind that you're one of 143 million people affected by the Equifax hack. The company will not be calling you. In fact, if you do get a phonecall from someone claiming to be from Equifax, it's likely a scammer trying to steal even more information. Don't answer their calls, and if you do, certainly don't answer any of their questions.
Step 5: Check your accounts for suspicious activity
The Equifax credit monitoring offer is great, but it only works once you turn it on. These bad guys busted into the company's servers in mid-May, so they've already had months to wreak havoc with your finances. Instead of flipping through Facebook this weekend, look through your bank records to make sure everything is how you remember it. If it isn't, you may want to take the next step.
Step 6: Set up a fraud alert or credit freeze
If you've found suspicious activity within your accounts, are nervous about your personal info floating around somewhere in cyberspace, or simply want to be extra careful with your credit, you can sign up for fraud alerts or a credit freeze.
Fraud alerts are good for stopping someone from opening a new credit accounts in your name. They work by requiring creditors to verify your identity before they can get a copy of your credit report. There are several types of fraud alerts. Initial fraud alerts last for at least 90 days. An extended fraud alert lasts for seven years. And active duty military alerts are available for a year for deployed members of the armed forces. Setting up a fraud alert through any of the major credit reporting agencies will prompt them to coordinate with each other to make sure your records are protected across all the companies.
If fraud alerts don't sound secure enough, you can set up a credit freeze, also known as a security freeze. Credit freezes restrict access to credit reports, denying new creditors from viewing your information, and as a result fraudsters cannot open new accounts. Credit freezes don't lock down your open accounts or affect your credit score. Credit freezes cost up to $10 per credit reporting company, last until you ask them to remove it (except for in a few states where they expire after seven years), and cost money to have them removed. Keep in mind, credit freezes will lock everyone out—even potential employers screening you for a new job.
In the days since the Equifax hack was revealed, some people have complained that the Equifax credit freeze was not working. This, unfortunately, is what happens when a large number of people try to freeze their credit at the same time. Hopefully it is already running more smoothly.
Once you've navigated your way through these six steps, you can rest assured that your credit is as safe as it can be. Now you can take the rest of the weekend off. After all that hard work, you deserve it.