The Equifax Breach – What You Need to Know

So you’ve found out you were one of the 143 million people who were possibly compromised by the Equifax breach. What exactly does that mean and what should you do now?

What it means is that hackers stole names, addresses, social security numbers and even driver’s license information. In some cases all this information was stolen and in some cases it could be only one or two pieces of this information. Since Equifax is saying that these people were “possibly” compromised, there is always a chance that none of your information was stolen.

There are several ways a person can protect themselves from further damage. You can go to the website Equifax provided to check to see if you were a potential victim and if so, can sign up for their monitoring service which is free for a year. When news of the breach was first released, there was an arbitration clause that limited a consumer’s right to be part of a class action lawsuit if they signed up for the service. After a lot of public backlash and scrutiny this clause has now been removed. The truth of the matter is that even if a consumer decides to become part of the lawsuit, recovering any damages will be extremely difficult as the consumer has to be able to prove that their credit was compromised or damaged as a result of the breach. With identity theft being so prominent these days, proving that any damage was because of this specific breach will not be easy. Because of the huge amount of people this has potentially affected, some people have experienced a lot of difficulty in signing up for the free service offered. Since the breach occurred with Equifax, there are also consumers that are very leery of signing up for a service that is offered by them.

If credit monitoring is something a consumer is interested in, but is not comfortable with the Equifax option, Experian and Trans Union also offer credit monitoring services as do some outside companies, although there is a cost for these services. There are some other options as well. A simple fraud alert is one. You can place a fraud alert on your credit bureaus every 90 days, which is a very easy thing to do. With a fraud alert, any time credit is applied for in your name, the creditor must confirm with you that it was indeed you who applied for the credit. The other nice thing about fraud alerts is that they are free and if you place one with one bureau, they will in turn notify the other two bureaus for you.

Another option is a “security freeze.” When you freeze your credit reports no one can have access to them except your existing creditors and some government agencies. While a security freeze does provide a greater amount of protection, it is not always the best option. In some states it costs to put a freeze on your credit files, and is also being frowned upon in light of the Equifax breach. It is important to note that it also costs to have the freeze removed when you desire to do so. If you are in the middle of applying for a loan it could turn into a real problem as the lender will then not be able to pull credit on you. When you put a freeze on your credit files the bureaus supply you with a PIN that you must have in order to have the freezes lifted. If you lose the PIN you can only get another one by requesting it via “snail mail.” This could potentially hold up a loan in process.

The thought of having your credit compromised can be very scary, however, there are things a consumer can do to hopefully prevent any further damage. You can (and should) also check your credit reports for free once a year at to make sure all of your credit looks as it should.