On September 7, 2017, Equifax, one of the major U.S. consumer credit reporting agencies, disclosed that a cybersecurity incident potentially impacting 143 million U.S. consumers had occurred. Sensitive information believed to have been exposed includes people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. Credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people is also believed to have been exposed.
If you have a credit report, there's a good chance it was. Due to the scale of this incident, Equifax has set up an online impact tool to help consumers determine if their information may be impacted. Since you must enter a portion of your social security number into this tool, please be certain you are on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection if you use it.
When you enter the requested information into this online tool, either the response “Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information was not impacted by this incident.” or “Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident.”
Another available option is to set up security freezes on your credit reports. A security freeze prevents anyone from accessing the credit report. In the event a fraudster attempts to open an account in your name, it will indicate the report is blocked and to contact the credit bureau.
This has to be done at each of the credit bureau sites. Note that this protects you from a person attempting to open new credit in your name but does not prevent fraud from occurring on existing accounts. Also, please be aware that there may be charges associated with freezing and/or unfreezing the report and charges vary by state. Carefully read the documentation on each of the credit bureau sites.
You can call to unfreeze your reports or do it online. You will need the PIN number you set up at the time you set up your freeze so keep all the PIN numbers in a secure place. Keep in mind, the PIN number will likely be different for each credit bureau.
If you need to open an account requiring a credit bureau inquiry, you will have to contact the credit bureau ahead of time, either on the phone or online, and unfreeze your credit freeze. You can set the "thaw" either for a period of time or for a particular creditor, for example, "State Savings Bank" or "Kohls". Please be aware that credit freezes may limit your ability to respond to an offer “on the fly” such as “Sign up for our credit card today and receive a 20% discount on your purchase.”
At any point you can completely remove a freeze if you decide you no longer want the protection.
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