Equifax hack: Steps to help protect your information from being misused

If you have a credit report, there’s a good chance that you’re one of the 143 million Americans whose personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax.

Equifax is one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies. The breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers.

They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information  for about 182,000 people.

There are steps to take to help protect your information from being misused.

Visit Equifax’s website here.

Find out if your information was exposed:

Click the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and last six digits of your Social Security Number. Make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter your social security number online. The site will then tell you if you’ve been affected by the breach.

There you can also access frequently asked questions about Equifax.

The free-credit-score website, WalletHub has some tips for how potential victims can keep their financial information safe as well.

Freezing Your Credit Report

Financial experts say one of the best lines of defense is to freeze your credit report, which takes about three business days.

But what does that mean?

A credit freeze prevents creditors from accessing your report. It prevents credit, loans and services from being approved in your name without consent. It’s important to know, freezing your credit report doesn’t affect your score. It will protect you from identity theft crimes.

If you do this, your report can still be accessed by a select group of people.
You, your existing creditors and debt collectors, and government agencies can see your report.

There are some things you can’t do if you choose to freeze your report.
You can’t open a new credit card, lease a car, or rent an apartment, for example.
A creditors needs to access your credit report in order to take advantage of those things.
When you initiate a freeze with each of the credit reporting companies, you have to do freezes with all of them, you'll get a pin that corresponds with each freeze. If you want to temporarily lift them, you'll give that pin back to the credit reporting company it corresponds to.

If you’d like to freeze your credit report:

You will need to call a reputable credit reporting company.

The well-known three are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Another well-known company is Innovis.

Financial experts say it’s best free your credit report over the phone, rather than online.

Steps to take

  • Sign up for 24/7 credit monitoring. If you do this, you’ll find out immediately if someone tries to open an account in your name. WalletHub, for example, offers free 24/7 monitoring of your TransUnion credit report.
  • Enable Two-Factor Authentication. Equifax was hacked, but your cell phone wasn’t. Use it as another layer of protection when logging into your email account and financial websites.
  • A Freeze Is Better Than an Alert. If you want to protect yourself from fraudulent borrowing, freeze your three major credit reports (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). This will prevent anyone but you from accessing them, thus making it impossible to take out a loan or line of credit. A fraud alert, in contrast, doesn’t actually do much.
  • Suppress Fraudulent Info. While you can dispute run-of-the-mill credit report inaccuracies, it’s best to use a process called “suppression” / “blocking” to get rid of negative info resulting from identity theft. In short, this makes it so the records in question can’t make reappearance after they’re initially removed.
  • Never Respond to Unsolicited Requests for Information. Don’t be surprised if you see an uptick in unsolicited calls and emails requesting personal information. Just remember: Never answer if you didn’t ask to be contacted.
  • The BBB is always there to help you. If you would like to learn more about the breach or how to protect yourself, visit the Better Business Bureau online or call them at 248-223-9400.

    About the Authors:

    Hank Winchester is Local 4’s Consumer Investigative Reporter and the head of WDIV’s “Help Me Hank” Consumer Unit. Hank works to solve consumer complaints, reveal important recalls and track down thieves who have ripped off people in our community.