It would be hard to miss the recent media coverage of the ‘Equifax Hack‘. A data breach exposing the personal data for 143 million Americans will tend to capture attention. Especially as this took place months ago and we are only finding out now. Unsure of where to go? Read our 5 Step Guide on what to do next.
Step 1 – Knowledge is Power!
The first thing you should do is to establish if you are part of the 143 million people affected. Don’t think you’ve given information to Equifax in the past? Don’t assume you are not affected, the financial services sector share/sell information fairly liberally. In this instance, curiosity did not kill the cat!
Equifax have set up an online validator to see if you are lucky enough to have your information made available to the hackers. Checking is simple. Access the feature here, enter the last six digits of your social, last name and Equifax will confirm ‘if they believe‘ your information was impacted via a message similar to the following:
Three things to note before you go down this route:
- The URL looks more like a fishing website than a legitimate one. We have validated via multiple trustworthy sources that the URL is real and is part of the ‘trusted‘ Equifax group.
- I did not feel fully comfortable sharing more information from a group so recently compromised. However, personally, not knowing felt like a bigger risk than assuming one way or another. If you don’t feel comfortable, a safe approach would be to assume you are impacted and jump to the next step regardless.
Step 2 – Check Your Credit Record
The next logical step is to make sure no-one has accessed your personal information. If you haven’t already, take advantage of the free credit report you are legally entitled to. There are also free services available that monitor adjustments to credit within each bureau. Credit Wise covers TransUnion, Credit Karma covers TransUnion and Equifax. Paid for products from the likes of myFICO (a contributor to Wealth-Hack) cover monitoring across all 3 bureaus from one source.
Regardless of how you gain access, establishing all your ‘recent inquiries’ came from you is a sensible move to make given the scale of this data security breach.
Step 3 – Fraud Alert: Increase Security
The most obvious step to take is to initiate a fraud alert. When you place a fraud alert against your credit file, you also associate contact information. Lenders should make use of this contact information to verify a request is legitimate before granting credit in your name. The service is free and contacting one agency will provide coverage across all three. This time, information sharing is good!
There are however downsides to this method. The key word used in the previous paragraph was should. Any manual process is obviously prone to human error. Also, for most, the fraud alert only covers you for 90 days before you need to run the process again.
If you want to initiate this protection, contact the bureaus directly. You can access Fraud Alerts by clicking on any the following links: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Please persevere! Due to demand, the services are struggling to keep up. It took me personally five times to get this positive outcome:
Step 4 – The Credit Freeze: Security Lock Down
In the interests of comparators, you could describe Fraud Alert as a quick to wield, cheap and flexible ‘chisel’ sized financial tool. In comparison, the credit freeze is a heavy-weight sledgehammer sized tool which works as follows. The credit freeze ‘locks‘ your credit information.
When you apply for a credit freeze, you are allocated a secure PIN. While your information is in the frozen state, lenders cannot access your personal information. Prior to you applying for credit, you need to allocate time to use your PIN to unfreeze, apply for credit and if appropriate, re-freeze afterward. This sledgehammer style solution protects you more than a fraud alert and is controlled completely by you.
There are downsides to the credit freeze sledgehammer. In many cases, it costs to freeze and unfreeze. Costs vary state by state, you can find out more here. Also, you need to freeze your information in each of the three agencies, all potentially incurring cost (and time). Also, if you intend taking out credit in the short to medium future, unfreezing/freezing costs could prove prohibitive.
If this is the right option for you, you can request freezing directly with Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Breaking news: Equifax are starting to bend to public pressure and have agreed to waive freezing fees for 30 days (covering Sep ’17, early Oct ’17). This reduces the cost of our ‘sledgehammer’ solution. Here’s hoping they go a stage further and cover costs across all three!
Step 5 – Financial Compensation
The final step is the step that is least concrete (no pun intended) but could be financially consequential, for you and for Equifax. A series of lawsuits have already commenced, both individual and class action. There are even startups creating legal ‘bots’ which will simplify the process required for you to commence legal action yourself.
Regardless, it would be wise to stay on top as the emerging legal ramifications play out. Set yourself up with a Google Alert and stay on top of this as it matures and of course, keeping checking in with Wealth-Hack. If there is one good thing to come out of this sorry affair, it’s that more people will keep far closer to their own personal financial information going forward.
Are you affected? What have you done to protect yourself and is there anything you can add to the above??