How to Protect Your Identity After Equifax Breach

When Equifax announced that over 143,000,000 records were hacked, meaning your personally identifiable information was exposed, they understated the impact of your potential problems. People think because the breach occurred during the spring and summer months and nothing bad has happened, they are safe. Wrong. It is likely the hackers have not yet sold or used your information and are in the process of selling it on the black market. Allow me to paint the forest analogy. You plant the saplings and it can take many years for them to become mature trees. That holds true for stolen data. It could be many months or even years before you realize you have a problem. We are not speaking of someone trying to charge $30 to your credit card but rather someone stealing your identity. 

How to Protect Your Identity

Some of the steps to take include:

  1. Obtain free credit reports, not credit scores.
  2. Look at the benefits that come with your credit cards. Some of them will give you free credit scores and possibly even free alerts. If they are available, sign up for them.
  3. Contact the credit bureaus and place a freeze on your credit. In Connecticut, the maximum fee that can be charged to place or lift a credit freeze is $10.00. If you or your spouse is a victim of identity theft, there may be no charge. If you are over age 62 or a domestic violence victim, they cannot charge a fee. Your state may offer similar protections and you can check that information here.
  4. Sign up at Credit Karma. It is an online site owned by TransUnion and they provide free credit scores and credit alerts.
  5. Sign up for credit monitoring.

You are protected against fraudulent use of your credit cards and should review those terms with your issuer. (For related reading, see: How to Protect Yourself From Credit Card Fraud.)

One of the biggest concerns is that someone attempts to open up credit cards or liabilities under your name and Social Security number, but then uses a different mailing address or legal address. If credit is given, and presumably not repaid, it could be months before that starts to affect your credit score. This is why I suggest the freeze.

The next concern is that someone files a fraudulent tax return under your name and Social Security number and receives a large refund. When you attempt to file, the IRS will reject your return, and you will have to deal with the IRS to resolve the issue. As an enrolled agent, I have dealt with this in the past. It is a tedious and frustrating process.

Here are the phone numbers and websites of the three credit bureaus. Expect long wait times!

Equifax

866-447-7559

www.freeze.equifax.com

TransUnion

888-909-8872

www.transunion.com

Experian

888-397-3742

www.experian.com

The ramifications of this credit hack could take years to unfold. I would not recommend waiving any rights to join a suit against Equifax in exchange for credit monitoring without consulting an attorney. (For related reading, see: Was I Hacked? Find out if the Equifax Security Breach Affects You.)

Correction: October 2, 2017

Although the author recommends not waiving your right to take legal action by signing up for the free credit monitoring service offered, Equifax retracted this stipulation on September 11, 2017.