Hackers stole the credit histories of over 140 million people by breaching Equifax, one of America’s three major credit reporting agencies.
You are compromised if you have ever held or applied for a credit card, bank loan, car loan, bank account, cell phone account, electric service, water service, internet service, a security clearance, most jobs, most schools, most apartment complexes, and most rental housing. In short, if you are an adult living in America today, your entire credit history has been stolen.
That includes your Social Security Number, previous addresses, all prior accounts, all account inquiries, any bankruptcies, and more.
The Equifax breach is larger and more dangerous than any of the previous breaches because the credit reporting agency stored people’s social security numbers. So while during previous breaches you could simply change your credit card number, with this Equifax disaster that will not save you from thieves.
The good news is that there is plenty of time, up to three months from the time of the breach, to act. If you do not, you are at risk of losing an anti-lottery—being one of the people whose identities will be used by thieves to apply for loans and other nefarious fraudulent schemes.
If you do become a victim, the process of proving to the government and creditors and that you are who you say you are can take years of pain and frustration. To defend yourself against this possibility, take the steps below as soon as possible.
Step 1: Get a copy of your credit report today
Keep the report on file to document where your credit history was at the time shortly after the breach.
There is only one site that is authorized by the government to provide truly free credit reports once a year: annualcreditreport.com
Don’t believe the hyped up websites when you do a Google search for a free credit report. If you need proof that the above site is the only one you should use, see links below:
Because of the breach, the AnnualCreditReport.com site was flooded with requests, so if it does not work immediately, try again later until it works.
If you change addresses frequently, you may have trouble having the website authenticate your identity. Do not give up and get the report mailed to you if necessary. Document this step well.
Step 2: Freeze your credit
Call each of the credit agencies and put a freeze on your credit. This will not impact your credit score or any of your open accounts. Your credit score will continue going up and down as usual.
A credit freeze prevents anyone, even you, from inquiring about your credit, unless the freeze is removed. This step costs money and fees vary by state.
If you need to finance something, unfreezing your account will cost about $30. At this point, you are a victim protecting yourself from harm. And harm, in this case, may mean years of legal woes and frustrating bureaucracy. Taking on an extra cost in terms of time and money is well worth preventing the nightmare of having your identity used by a thief.
These are the numbers to call to place a freeze on your credit. You must call all three.
When you call, you will be given a long PIN number. Write it down. This is the piece of information that will prevent a thief from lifting your freeze. Do not hang up until you have written down and verified your PIN.
TransUnion will let you pick your own PIN. Experian will send it to you in the mail. Equifax will generate a random one and give it to you over the phone.
Record your calls if possible and if you don’t, listen very carefully.
Step 3: Initiate a fraud alert
Contact your local police station. You are now a victim of identity theft and need to file a police report or an identity theft report. Some police stations may never have dealt with a report of this type and may not know what you are talking about. Be patient and kindly explain and they will likely do it.
If the police don’t comply, you can still initiate a fraud alert, but it will cost money. Follow the steps in this Federal Trade Commission check list to initiate the fraud alert.
Step 4: Opt out of pre-screened credit offers
The Equifax breach is reason enough to get off the grid for a while. If you hate junk mail, following this step will help as well.
You can call 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or visit OptOutPreScreen to opt out.
The opt out will remain for five years. If you want to opt out permanently, mail the signed Permanent Opt-Out Election Form to each credit bureau at these addresses:
P.O. Box 919
Allen, TX 75013
Name Removal Option
P.O. Box 505
Woodlyn, PA 19094
P.O. Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374-0123
Innovis Consumer Assistance
P.O. Box 495
Pittsburgh, PA 15230-0495
- File your tax return as early as possible to prevent a thief from filing a fraudulent return. This is the only loophole a thief can exploit from which you have no protection against.
- 143 million Americans were affected. That probably means all of your friends and family need to protect themselves. Share this advice.
- Do not get into a lawsuit with a multi-billion dollar company without consulting a lawyer first.