Step One: Be Proactive.
Chances are good, unfortunately, that your information has been stolen in the breach at Equifax, since nearly half of America’s population was exposed. What can you do now?
• First: Go to Equifax to see if your sensitive information has been stolen. It seems that unless your credit card information was compromised in the breach, they are not going to notify you.
This situation is different in a marked way from when other companies and retailers were hacked. Those companies that were hacked went out of their way to try to keep a loyal customer base. With Equifax, we are not the customer. We are the product they’re selling. So they’re scrambling to keep their loyal customer base, but in this case, without much regard for us as consumers. This is exacerbated by the fact that Equifax has much more extensive data to lose than other companies, and you can’t just stop using Equifax.
• Second: Don’t panic. There are steps you can take right now to mitigate your losses.
Under Federal Law, you are allowed to request a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – this service is available online at AnnualCreditReport.com. There are also free apps available in the app stores – Credit Karma is an example – that allow you to monitor your credit report as often as you would like. Keep in mind, it takes time for things to show up on your report.
• Third: Put a “fraud alert” on your credit reports by contacting one of the credit agencies. They are required to notify the other two. It has to be renewed every 90 days, but you will be contacted if someone tries to apply for credit using your credentials.
• Fourth: Keep an eye on your banking and credit card accounts and monitor them for suspicious activity. If they offer an alert system related to new transactions, sign up! Regularly get online and check your balances and the account history. There is no guarantee that your information will be used immediately, and it is important to remain vigilant. If you see fraudulent charges, contact your institution immediately and follow their protocol.
• Fifth: You may receive communications that aren’t expected either from a lender or from the IRS regarding your taxes or even from a collector about an account you don’t know anything about. These are all signs you have been a victim of identity theft. In the event a fraudulent account is opened in your name, contact the fraud department at each business where a new account was opened IN WRITING. Explain that your identity has been stolen, and request that the account be closed. The Federal Trade Commission provides a sample letter you can use to dispute these accounts. Some creditors may also ask for a police report, which must be filed with your local law enforcement agency.
• Sixth: Credit monitoring or identity theft protection services track credit reports. Keep in mind, these services do NOT alert you to suspicious activities in your bank or on your credit cards. Many of these services will alert you when your credit history is checked, a new loan or credit card is opened in your name, a payment is reported late, or if public records show you’ve filed for bankruptcy. Some include identity theft protection and alert you when your personal information is used in other ways; they monitor utility and cable bills, payday loan applications, and social media.
There is usually a cost involved with credit monitoring. While these services can’t prevent fraud from happening, many offer identity recovery services to help you get your finances back under control in the event an identity theft occurs. The government offers assistance in recovering from identity theft at IdentityTheft.gov. This service is free.
• Seventh: Put a freeze on your credit, if you think it’s necessary. A freeze blocks anyone from accessing your credit reports without your permission, but keep in mind this will be inconvenient for you as well. There is a fee to freeze your credit and it varies state by state – commonly from $5 to $10. The credit bureaus each have their own procedures for freezing accounts. At the time of this post, the procedures are listed here:
o Equifax: https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
o Experian: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
o TransUnion: https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze2
Short of filing a lawsuit, the steps listed above are some of things you can do right now to make it more difficult for fraudsters to abuse your stolen information.
Step Two: Legal Action.
If you would like to discuss the possibility of being added to the nationwide class action lawsuit against Equifax, feel free to contact our office. Call Mastando & Artrip at 256-532-2222.