In September, Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit bureaus, announced that a data breach likely compromised the information of approximately 145 million Americans, about half the US population. The media swirl that has ensued has left many people confused and alarmed. Here’s what you should know about the breach:
- As a credit-reporting agency, Equifax collects information about consumers and how we handle our financial obligations.
- Equifax and other credit bureaus sell this information to lenders and credit-scoring companies to determine our eligibility for loans and lines of credit, and even employment. The data these agencies collect include our date of birth, Social Security and credit card account numbers.
- Even if you don’t think you’re a customer of Equifax and you don’t bank online, you still may be affected.
Equifax has said that it hasn’t found evidence of unauthorized activity on its core consumer or commercial credit-reporting databases. But criminals could use the treasure trove of personal information acquired in the breach to apply for credit cards and loans in your name, access your bank accounts, and establish a phony presence online with email and social media accounts. As a consumer, here’s what you should do:
- To find out if the breach may affect you, visit equifaxsecurity2017.com. While there be sure to read the “Consumer Notice” and “News and Updates” tabs to get clarification on issues surrounding the breach and the company’s offer for free credit monitoring. The credit protection service is free for 12 months for consumers (not just breach victims) who sign up by January 31, 2018.
- Equifax has also established a toll-free response line for additional questions at 866-447-7559.
- Regularly review your credit reports, and look for unauthorized activity. You can order a report from each credit bureau once every 12 months at annualcreditreport.com.
- Consider placing a credit freeze on your file to prevent identity thieves from opening a new account in your name. In New Jersey there is no fee to put a freeze on your credit file; however, there may be a small fee to lift the freeze in some cases, you can learn more here .You will have to contact the credit bureaus with a request to lift the freeze when you apply for credit. Here are the contact numbers for the three major credit bureaus:
- Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
- Experian — 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
- Add a fraud alert to your credit report. This notifies lenders and creditors checking your credit report to take additional steps to verify your identification before extending credit in your name.
- Monitor your credit card and bank statements regularly, because a credit freeze won’t stop a thief from unauthorized use of your existing accounts
For your questions about identity theft or other types of fraud, call the AARP Fraud Watch Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 to talk to one of our trained volunteers; or go to aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork. The AARP Fraud Watch Network can provide more information about identity theft, fraud and scams, and send you alerts right to your inbox.