So maybe you heard the news: Equifax, one of the countries largest credit bureau’s, had a data breach and millions of people’s information was compromised.
This is a BIG DEAL. Hackers going after companies is a part of life in the digital age, but this hack is particularly dangers for consumers. Here’s what happened and what it means for you.
Equifax is a credit bureau, which means it collects information and data on how consumers use their credit. And their reach is big- Equifax collects and uses information from over 800 million individual consumers and more than 88 million businesses around the world. This breach compromised 143 million users. That’s one third of the US population, just fyi.
Exactly what kind of information do they collect? Think: Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, phone numbers, driver’s license numbers. Basically anything a hacker needs to steal your identity and your money.
So a breach of a any credit bureau is a big, huge deal. But this one is even worse due to how Equifax handled it.
The breach occurred in July 2017, but they didn’t make it public OR warn their uses until September 2017. Yes, that’s right: it took them nearly three months to tell people their information may have been exposed to hackers. The company is also now under investigation for mishandling this, for potential illegal stock sales, and several class action suits have been filed against it.
What it Means For You
If you were alerted by Equifax that your information was compromised there are a few things you can do.
You can freeze your credit.
A credit freeze means that you’re basically cutting off access to your credit. When you apply for credit- be it a credit card, a mortgage or a student loan- the lender checks your credit report. Freezing your credit means they-along with any potential hackers- no longer have access to it.
When you freeze your credit you get a pin number that allows you access to your report. It’s your credit after all, so you retain the right to look at it.
You can set up fraud alerts.
You can place fraud alerts on your credit reports. This is a less intense way to protect your credit if you’ve been the victim of fraud. Fraud alerts let potential lenders know that you may have been the victim of fraud. It’s a chance for lenders to take extra precautions before granting a line of credit. Fraud alerts usually last 90 days, but you have the power to extend it. The maximum is 7 years. To create an extended alert, you need to provide an identity theft report.
Even if you haven’t been a victim in the Equifax breach, you should run your credit report to check for unusual activity. This should be an annual habit really. Identity theft can take a long time- your social security number doesn’t change year to year. So a thief could steal your data in 2017, but not start masquerading as you until 2020. Regular credit checks will keep you up to date on your credit history.
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Kara Perez is the original founder of From Frugal To Free. She is a money expert, speaker and founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Her work has been featured on NPR, Business Insider, Forbes, and Elite Daily.