Recently, Equifax reported a breach of security that may affect aver 140 million American consumers. Equifax is one of the three major credit reporting agencies and holds the sensitive personal information of approximately 820 million consumers, including social security numbers, birthdates, addresses, and (in some cases) driver’s license numbers. In addition to accessing personal information, the credit card information of more than 200,000 people was stolen by the hackers.
The information stolen can be used to steal your identity. Identity theft has long been a problem, but the size of this breach coupled with the nature of the information compromised, means that it may become even more of a threat. Resources are available online, including through Equifax itself, to determine whether you may have been potentially affected by the breach. Before utilizing any of these resources, you should do your own research to ensure they are trustworthy. Remember whenever you transmit potentially sensitive information you should only to do from a secure computer with an encrypted network connection.
If your account has been potentially compromised, you will need to take active steps to protect against identity theft and fraudulent charges. You should periodically check your credit reports to ensure that there is no unusual activity (unauthorized accounts) and also monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely. If new accounts are being opened, you will need to immediately contact the company issuing the credit and take necessary steps to dispute the account. You may want to consider a “credit freeze”, which will make it more difficult to open any new credit accounts. Since a “credit freeze” may also make it more difficult for you to use your own credit, you may opt to simply consider placing a “fraud alert” on your files. A “fraud alert” simply warns creditors that you may be a victim of identity theft and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you. If there are unusual charges on existing accounts, immediately notify the credit company and dispute those charges.
Even if you were not affected by the breach, U.S. consumers are entitled to 1 year of free credit monitoring and other services. You will be provided with a date on which you can enroll in the services. You can unroll until November 21, 2017. By accepting the free credit monitoring, you are not giving up your right to sue at a later date for any damages caused by the breach.