The Equifax Data Breach: How To Ensure It Doesn’t Affect Your Credit Score

Posted by Margaret Henehan on September 26, 2017 at 11:30 AM
Margaret Henehan
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equifax data breach and your credit score.jpegThat’s probably what a lot of people thought when they first heard of the Equifax breach last week. After a bankruptcy rebuilding your credit score quickly is important. You don’t want anything getting in the way like a data leak. There have been a lot of mixed messages on what to do to protect yourself, now that most likely, your social security number, birth date, address and other personal information is floating around the universe. The breach affected 143 million people, which is basically every adult living in the United States.

What we have learned since the announcement is that consumers are largely on their own in trying to figure out what to do. Check to see if your social security number was affected? Freeze your credit reports? Sign up for monitoring through the company that failed to protect your information in the first place? Do nothing?

Was I part of the breach?

If you check to see if your social security number was part of the breach, you will still be able to be part of a potential class action lawsuit in the future. Originally, it appeared that Equifax’s arbitration clause applied to anyone that simply typed in their last 6 digits of their social, which would not have allowed your participation in a class action lawsuit. As of right now, it appears that clause doesn’t affect people that simply checked the status of their social security number.

How to freeze my credit?

Equifax is temporarily offering to freeze your credit free of charge. This can protect you against scammers trying to establish new credit accounts under your social security number. A freeze basically puts your credit file “on ice” by preventing the report of information to third parties, like credit card companies. Lenders won’t be able to access your credit score or file without you “thawing” the account by giving the creditor your secret pin number that will allow them to access the information.

Sign up for fraud alerts?

A fraud alert will give you a heads up if anyone is trying to access your account. It’s like a red flag that will be waived to creditors to make sure they take extra steps to verify the legitimacy of the credit request. Fraud alerts are valid for 90 days at a time and can be placed with the three major credit bureaus including Equifax, at no cost.

Do I Enroll in Equifax’s credit monitoring?

Whether your information was exposed or not, Equifax is offering a year of free credit monitoring. Monitoring your credit is a typical first step to do after a breach, but it’s the credit monitoring agency that got breached.

Right now you have to sign up on its website, receive a pin and the company will give you a date to come back and enroll in the program. Equifax has been unclear in when the monitoring will actually start. If you sign up and receive this benefit, Equifax’s arbitration clause may prevent you from joining a class action lawsuit in the future.

An alternative is to sign up for credit monitoring elsewhere with a different company. It is low cost, the monitoring would start immediately, and you could still be eligible to sue Equifax in the future.

Do nothing?

The data has already been leaked. Leaked more than a month before consumers even found out about it. Thieves tend to sell and use this data quickly when it has the most value. Less than 5% of financial crimes are prevented from freezing credit. Freezing and monitoring may hold but it’s all incremental.

This data will be floating out there for years for scammers and thieves to use. Consumers need to be diligent for years to come, not just in the short term immediately following the breach. It’s still recommended to monitor bank accounts and credit reports and to file tax returns as early as possible to prevent anyone trying to file a fraudulent return under your social security number.

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Topics: Credit, Credit Repair

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