Equifax Data Breach: What Should I Expect And How Can I Protect Myself?

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Computer with code on the screenEquifax, one of the three main credit bureaus in the U.S., was hit by a massive data security breach in the Summer of 2017 that affected 145.5 million U.S. consumers. Hackers gained access to names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, credit card numbers, addresses and driver’s license numbers.

On March 1, 2018 Equifax announced that they had identified an additional 2.4 million U.S. consumers whose partial driver’s license information was stolen during the original breach.

In our updated Equifax reviews, we’ll give you the lowdown on the breach and tell you how you can protect your credit now and in the future.

Visit Equifax’s Website

About the Equifax Data Breach

Criminal hackers infiltrated Equifax servers between mid-May and July 2017 and gained unauthorized access to the personal information of 44% of the U.S. population. Equifax learned of the breach on July 29, 2017, but didn’t publicly announce it until September 7. What’s worse, Equifax admitted to knowing about the security flaw a full two months before hackers broke in.

On August 2, Equifax contacted Mandiant, a professional cybersecurity firm, to help them determine the exact affected data. The firm found that a series of breaches had occurred from May 13 through July 30, 2017. These breaches compromised the personal data of 143 million consumers (now estimates are at 147.9 million) and allowed hackers access to the credit-card data of 209,000 people.

In the aftermath, two senior computer security executives at Equifax retired, followed by its CEO, Richard Smith. Members of Congress requested a timeline of the breach as well as Equifax’s detailed efforts to limit the harm to consumers. On Oct. 2, Smith testified before the House Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee admitting that “mistakes were made.”

Learn About Other Recent High-Profile Credit Breaches

The Science Behind the Hack

The video below is a must-watch if you’ve been wondering how hackers got into Equifax’s servers.

How Does the Equifax Fraud Alert Work?

If you’ve been or suspect you’ve been affected by the data breach, it’s important to place an initial free 90-day Equifax fraud alert on your credit file. All you have to do is fill out their simple online form to place the alert. Equifax will forward your alert request to the two other major credit bureaus, Experian and TransUnion, so you don’t need to contact each of them separately.

If you want to extend your fraud alert, you’re required to fill out an extension form and fax or mail a valid police report, law enforcement agency report, or US Postal service report that alleges mail theft. You also must provide a photocopy of one valid form of identification (SSN Card, Driver’s License or Pay Stub with SSN) AND one proof of address (Rental Agreement/House Deed, W2 Form or Pay Stub with Address).

What Is an Equifax Security Freeze?

You can also place an Equifax security freeze on your credit file. This means that third parties can’t access your Equifax credit report, making it difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in your name. Just be aware that it can take up to three business days to unfreeze your credit report.

What Is Equifax Lock & Alert?

With Equifax’s new Lock & Alert tool, you can quickly lock and unlock your Equifax credit report from your computer or smartphone to help protect against identity theft. Lock & Alert is entirely free, and your report will be unlocked immediately with a simple click or swipe. Equifax will send you confirmation alerts every time you lock or unlock your report. 

Alternatives to Protect Your Credit

If you’re worried that thieves have stolen your identity, you should consider getting a credit freeze on your Experian and TransUnion credit files in addition to your Equifax file. This restricts other parties from accessing your credit reports. Read our guide on how to freeze your credit report to learn more and to determine whether this is the best option for you.

We also recommend investing in a reputable credit monitoring service to protect your credit. Be sure to check out our reviews of the best credit monitoring services, which take the hassle out of monitoring your credit.

What experiences have you had with Equifax?

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While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s graduate school for journalism and public relations, Sally began a long career researching and writing about hard-to-understand topics, such as insurance and finance.

Her additional experience in marketing, fundraising, public relations and financial planning at various foundations and nonprofit organizations over the years has given her the practical tools to inform consumers about making the smartest business and personal financial decisions.

Speaking of smart living — growing up in the (at-the-time) per-capita murder capital of the U.S. (Richmond, VA) taught her a thing or two about the need for personal and home safety. Sally stays on top of all the latest gadgets and services to protect her and her teenage daughters from potential predators and thieves. And she brings this knowledge to every article she writes.

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YoyoyoMaaa
I am worried my credit may have been breached during the recent Equifax scare and was wondering what people are doing to protect themselves now and going forward?
Alex Schenker (Admin)
If you are even remotely concerned, you should just go ahead and initiate a free 90 day fraud alert with Experian, Transunion or Equifax (probably a safe place to be right now, post-breach!). You only need to do it with one of these and they will communicate with all three of the credit reporting agencies. I think if anyone has any worries whatsoever then just go ahead and do that because then the fraud alert allows people to still proceed with any third-party loan applications or other things they might have going on. However, the caveat is that when the lender is trying to submit your credit file for approval, they will get a rejection with a notice from the credit reporting agency saying that they need to call you to verify. The rejection notice provides the lender with the phone number that you have provided as a part of setting your fraud alert. The Lender calls you at the number again to verify your loan application and all you have to do is verbally confirm that it was actually you so they can proceed with the application.

This should give you a really good idea if your account has been breached. If anyone’s trying to use your social security number during that 90 day window, and you get pinged a couple times, then you will know right away. You will also know if you might need to extend the fraud alert.

Next line of defense going forward would be to sign up for a credit monitoring service. A lot of people are doing credit freezes. I actually highly discourage people from doing that because they are very difficult to remove and may cause issues when you do want to use your credit legitimately. Here are our recommendations for credit monitoring with an identity theft protection service.

SamuelSON
Looks like the new Equifax TrustedId.com service does let you lock/unlock your file in 48 hours, but I’m not sure as to whether it only locks the Equifax file, and not the others.
Don
That’s interesting Sam. Is the lock/unlock the same thing as a freeze? Or are alert, lock, and freeze all different levels of credit security?
Ruthie W
This is the information I was looking for, thank you!! My 90 day Equifax fraud alert is about to expire and it looks like with that form I can only put in an initial alert. Any ideas on how to extend my fraud alert?
Alex Schenker (Admin)
Hi Ruthie,

From what I can gather you can use this Equifax form to place an extended fraud alert on your account. However, it appears you also need to submit a a valid law enforcement or USPS report that alleges mail theft.

If you’re really concerned, you may want to look into freezing your credit file, although from what I’ve heard it can take some time to “unfreeze,” so keep that in mind.

Anonymous
I was part of the breach! Haven’t had any issues yet (knock on wood)