The Equifax hacking has been all over the news. Over 140 million personal records have been stolen. The early response from Equifax has been very disappointing. Equifax proposed charging people to freeze their credit. Equifax makes money from analyzing sensitive personal data they were never asked to manage. Then Equifax loses this data and wants to charge the same customers a fee to protect themselves from identity theft. Clearly, Equifax doesn’t get it. This is the biggest issue their company will ever face and may bankrupt or destroy their business. Lawsuits are already being filed. Waiting over 6 weeks to report the hack is egregious. There are some reports of executives dumping stock prior to the announcement. This will not end well for Equifax.
So as a person minding my own business while the mother of all hacks (MOAH) is revealed, what should I do? The best place to go for information is:
This website is providing more information daily and the FAQ section is helpful. You will be able to find out if you were affected by the hack and get connected with options for protecting yourself. Even if Equifax reports you are not affected, I recommend signing up for as much protection as possible. I do not trust Equifax.
Equifax needs to provide a free credit freeze at all three credit monitoring services. This is the only way to stop potential identity theft. Only freezing credit at Equifax is not enough as thieves can use the hacked information to open accounts at Trans Union and Experian (the other two credit bureaus). What is a credit freeze? This is a lock on your credit that stops any entity from reviewing and opening credit in your name. While a credit freeze is secure it can be inconvenient. Whenever you are taking out a loan or even signing up for cable TV, you will need to temporarily unfreeze your credit. You can do this online with a PIN number provided by the credit bureau. The credit bureaus do charge an annoying fee for this service. If you can find out which bureau the company where you are buying uses, you can just unfreeze your credit for the one transaction.
Why should you be concerned about all of this? The answer is, you want to do everything possible to avoid identity theft. My identity was stolen in 2008. I started receiving bills from stores I never visited either in person or online. Someone was opening credit card accounts in my name and charging thousands of dollars worth of goods. I called the police and filed a report. I then managed to immediately freeze my credit. It took me 6 months to clean up the last of the fraudulent credit cards. In the end, there was over $60,000 worth of fraudulent charges. I did not have to pay for any of the charges, however, I spent an enormous amount of time sorting out the mess. I am not sure what my credit score was during this time but I assume it took a significant drop. Fortunately, I did not need to use my credit during this time. There was also the expense borne by the companies who delivered products and did not receive payment. This fraud must be recovered in higher prices passed on to the consumer. Make no mistake about it, identity theft is a big deal and we all pay for it.
Since my identity information was “out there” I decided to leave my credit frozen. For me, the peace of mind of having frozen credit is worth the occasional hassle and minor expense of unfreezing the information. Having frozen credit can also be an additional barrier to slow someone down and be more thoughtful about incurring new or additional debt. There are some services out there that claim to protect the consumer from identity theft. I have never tried them but I am skeptical that they could do anything more than set up fraud alerts and monitor credit reports. At this point in my life, I would like to completely remove myself from all three credit bureaus but I have not figured out how to make this happen. It is annoying to have to pay to protect yourself from a company losing information they were never given in the first place, but such is the way of the world today.
Do not assume identity theft will not happen to you. Stay on top of your credit report and investigate any suspicious activity. Decide what you are going to do about the Equifax hack because you are likely affected. Be as aggressive as you can in securing your credit information.
Make the most of this day!