Even if you’ve never used Equifax, the credit reporting agency could still have a significant amount of your personal information.
Last Thursday, Equifax said they had suffered a data breach, and as many as 143 million people could be affected. That’s almost half the country. The cybercriminals stole names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and some driver’s license numbers. Basically, everything needed for the perfect identity theft cocktail.
In addition, credit card numbers for about 209,000 people were exposed, as was “personal identifying information” on roughly 182,000 customers involved in credit report disputes.
Equifax will not be contacting everyone who was affected by the breach, but will send direct mail notices to those whose credit card numbers or dispute records were accessed.
So, how would Equifax (one of three nationwide credit-reporting companies) have your information if you’ve never used their services? They get information from credit card companies, banks, retailers, and lenders, without you even knowing it.
The company is encouraging you to check if you were affected by the hack, and to sign up for credit monitoring and identity theft protection. They’re providing free service for one year through TrustedID Premier. You can access this service whether or not you’ve been affected by the breach.
If you believe you’ve been affected by the Equifax hack, one option would be to place fraud alerts on your credit reports. This would force a lender to contact you to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. You can place an alert on your report for free by contacting one of the credit agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion), which is then required to notify the other two. A fraud alert lasts for 90 days, and can be renewed.
A more iron-clad option would be placing a freeze on your credit. This would prevent a lender from being able to pull your credit report, and therefore wouldn’t be able to extend the credit. A credit freeze doesn’t affect any current credit you may have open. It just prevents new credit from being established in your name. Of course, you can temporarily unfreeze your credit, should you need to access it.
While a credit freeze may seem extreme, it’s something worth considering in this instance.
If you’re going to freeze your credit, you should do so at all three agencies. That way, no matter what agency the lending institution uses, your credit cannot be pulled.
Here are the contact numbers for each company, and links to their dedicated freeze landing pages. All of the numbers listed here are for automated freeze services, so that you can easily freeze your credit over the phone in just a few minutes:
The Federal Trade Commission’s website also offers information about how to protect yourself against fraud.
If you have further questions regarding the data breach, Equifax has set up a designated call center at 1-866-447-7559.
We are encouraging all of our clients to take this data breach seriously, and to take the steps necessary to protect yourself against any threat of identity theft.
This article first appeared on CNN Money. To read the full article, click here.