If you are a Millennial with a credit report, there’s a good chance that you are one of the 143 million Americans whose personal data has been compromised from Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit bureaus.
Here is what you need to know and the steps that you can take following this material data breach:
1. What happened?
According to Equifax, the breach lasted from mid-May through July 2017.
Hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers.
Equifax said hackers also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people.
2. How can you check if your information was compromised?
You can learn more on Equifax’s website.
To determine whether your personal information was exposed, click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number.
For your reference, you can contact Equifax by telephone available daily from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. eastern time at 1-866-447-7559 (for dedicated data breach call center). You can also contact Equifax customer care at 1-866-640-2273.
3. Can you obtain free credit monitoring services?
Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services through www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.
This Equifax website will provide you a date when you can enroll. Return to the website on that date and click “Enroll.”
Make sure to enroll by November 21, 2017.
4. Do you waive any rights by accepting a year of free credit monitoring services?
First, it is important to note that the breach can impact your credit profile for longer than one year.
Therefore, one year of credit monitoring services may help for the short-term, but may not be a long-term solution.
For example, a Social Security Number does not expire. Therefore, you need to protect yourself on an ongoing basis.
You may want to purchase ongoing credit monitoring services so that you can receive automatic updates regarding any changes to your credit report.
Second, whenever you sign up for a service (particularly following a data breach), make sure you understand the terms and conditions of the offering.
Initially, consumers who sought to accept the free one year of credit monitoring services from Equifax were reportedly not signing up for a “free” service.
How can this be?
Equifax’s credit monitoring agreement stated that in exchange for accepting the credit monitoring services, a consumer would waive his or her right to sue Equifax subsequently in any class action lawsuit.
After meeting with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, however, Equifax clarified that consumers can receive the free credit monitoring service and not give up their right to sue Equifax in the future as a result of the data breach.
5. Check your credit report
Under federal law, you are entitled to obtain a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company, including Experian, Equifax and Transunion.
You can check your credit report for free at Annualcreditreport.com to ensure that your credit report is in good order.
If you find any errors on your credit report, contact each credit bureau directly to remedy the issues.
6. Monitor your credit cards and bank accounts
In addition to monitoring your credit reports, make sure to check your credit card and bank account statements to ensure the transactions are legitimate.
Report any suspicious activities such as unauthorized bank withdrawals or transfers.
7. What should you do if your identity has been stolen?
You can visit www.identytheft.gov for more information.
8. Why is credit important? What if you have bad credit?
Your credit score and credit reports are essential to your financial life.
That is why it is critical to start building credit as early as possible in your financial life.
Your credit score may determine whether you qualify for a student loan, mortgage, auto loan or credit card.
Your credit score also may be used when you apply for insurance, rent an apartment or purchase a cell phone.
Even if you have bad credit, it is important to take proactive steps to protect yourself against this data breach because your personal information can still be misappropriated.
9. File your taxes early
Tax identity theft occurs when someone uses your Social Security number to obtain a tax refund or get a job.
Therefore, file your taxes as early as possible – before someone else uses your identity to do so.
10. Is a blanket credit freeze a good idea?
It may seem logical that you would want to freeze all your accounts immediately so that any unauthorized individuals cannot access them.
However, in addition to the cost, there are several issues to consider before proceeding with a credit freeze.
First, while a credit freeze can make it more difficult for someone to open a new account in your name, a credit freeze does not prohibit an unauthorized individual from making charges to your existing accounts.
Second, you need to be thoughtful whether a blanket credit freeze makes sense for your personal financial situation.
A credit freeze would immediately freeze access to all your credit information.
If you have or plan to borrow student loans or a mortgage, or plan to refinance student loans or refinance your mortgage in the near-term, then a blanket credit freeze may not be your best move.
The same applies if you are buying a car or applying for a new job, both of which may require a credit check.
Therefore, you may want to consider carefully whether a blanket credit freeze makes financial and practical sense based on your personal circumstances.
11. Read the fine print
In times of crisis, it may seem logical to sign up for every possible credit protection service and program.
However, read the fine print.
Not all services are created equally.
Be wary of email phishing and phone call scams that ask you to click on website links or request personal information.
Even if the email or caller claims to be from Equifax.
12. Where can you go for more information?
Both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regulate credit bureaus, including Experian.
You can check both their websites for the latest information and next proactive steps.
Zack Friedman is a keynote speaker and Founder & CEO of Make Lemonade, a personal finance comparison site that helps you save money and live a better financial life.