If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, then you may not have heard about the record setting data breach that Equifax announced Wednesday September 6th. As one of the big three credit reporting agencies (next to TransUnion and Experian), Equifax has access to millions upon millions of birth dates, addresses, credit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, and, you guessed it, social security numbers.
The company announced that hackers had access to this information from around mid-May through to the end of July, when Equifax first discovered the breach and shut it down. A reported 143 million US customers are said to be affected.
What Are They Doing About It?
This is an excellent question, and at first it seemed that Equifax did very little. After all, they waited six weeks to tell the public that their highly personal information could be in the hands of people who seek to exploit it. However, they’ve since kicked it into gear, providing the public with free access to services that will help them stay on top of their credit.
First of all, Equifax has sent out letters to all individuals that may have been affected. Of course, knowing that hackers had six weeks to steal their identities, few people are eager to wait around for snail mail. Thankfully, Equifax has also set up a dedicated website where you can check whether you were affected and sign up for TrustedID.
What is TrustedID?
TrustedID provides a year of free credit monitoring for all three credit bureaus. In other words, you will be notified of any significant changes to your credit. That includes if someone uses your identification to open a credit card or get a loan. Of course, some damage will have been done, but you can prevent further damage to your credit if you stay informed and act fast.
The service also proves social security monitoring. It will scour the internet for your social security number, monitoring when it appears on websites. This may help you know if you’re number has been thoroughly compromised and you need to apply for a new one.
Finally, you will be given the ability to lock and unlock your Equifax credit account. This will prevent outside agencies from pulling your credit report (something that happens more often than you think). If you’re looking to get a loan yourself, however, you can approve them to pull a report. This will help prevent those surprise credit card accounts from popping up.
Great, Now What’s the Catch?
You might have heard people decrying Equifax for infringing on consumer rights with some of their fine print. Up until very recently, the agreement that you had to sign to access the TrustedID services sneakily stated that you would not participate in a class action lawsuit against Equifax. In other words, Equifax compromised your identity and holds the key to protecting it, but only if you absolve them of all responsibility.
After this ill-advised move went public, Equifax changed the Terms & Conditions. Now you’re no longer signing away your rights. Of course, one might ask why you have to sign up at all – why Equifax isn’t automatically locking down and providing everyone with added protection – but you’re not likely going to get a satisfying answer.
Is That It?
More or less. You might consider reaching out to the other crediting agencies to freeze those accounts as well. After all, your social security number does not just apply to Equifax. In the meantime, sit tight. It may take a few days after you sign up for TrustedID to get an email that will help you finish the process. If you’re worried, you can always try calling the number on the Equifax website. However, if someone calls you and says they’re from Equifax, hang up.