After Equifax: What Should the Public Do?
As we have discussed in previous posts, Equifax Inc. suffered a cybersecurity breach potentially affecting 143 million individuals in the United States. Although Equifax’s investigation is ongoing, the data at risk includes Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses. Equifax has also said that the breach may have involved driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers, and “certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers.” That leaves just about everyone asking: What should we do?
Equifax has a website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, which purportedly will inform you whether your information has been compromised by the breach. Though, consumers have reported problems with the website’s results.
Equifax—among others—also offers a credit monitoring service. Credit monitoring, however, is necessarily “backward looking,” and it cannot protect you from identity theft. Any credit monitoring would inform you after someone steals your identity; it does not prevent a thief from using your identity to open new lines of credit.
The expert-recommended way to prevent identity theft is to request a security freeze—also known as a “credit freeze”—with all four major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, and the often-overlooked Innovis. A security freeze prevents potential creditors from being able to view or “pull” your credit file, unless you affirmatively unfreeze your file beforehand. As a result, any nefarious attempt to use your name to apply for a credit line should fail, because a creditor should be blocked from viewing your credit file.
Once you “freeze” your credit file, each bureau should provide you with a unique personal identification number (PIN) that you can use to “unfreeze” your credit file in the event that you need to apply for new lines of credit. Though, depending on the state in which you reside, some credit agencies will charge a small fee (no more than $15) to freeze or unfreeze your credit report.
Below, we’ve provided the relevant contact information and specific URL links for the four major credit bureaus to implement credit freezes. Be patient: After the Equifax breach, there have been delays in accessing the websites and phone numbers.
Phone Number: 1-888-909-8872
Phone Number: 1-800-685-1111 (non-New-York Residents); 1-800-349-9960 (New York Residents)
Phone Number: 1-888-397-3742
Phone Number: 1-800-540-2505