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What everyone needs to know about the Equifax Breach

Author:  Nic Baus

Everyone knows how precious your credit rating can be and how much it can swing you getting a loan for a house, car or even a simple retail credit card. There are three major credit reporting agencies that hold this control, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. They have everyone’s personal information ranging from Social Security Numbers, personal information and possibly even credit card numbers and account information. How big of an issue could this become if hackers and the black market were to get ahold of all this information? In today’s age, is very much possible and now we are living it with the most recent and possibly the largest data breach.

The Great Equifax Hack

Equifax has been in the spotlight for their security breach during the spring of 2017. This breach happened between May and July but was not publicly released until early September. It has recently come out that this was due to failure of security patching. With this breach and possible collection of over 146 million American’s credit information, many people are concerned about what could happen tomorrow and possibly years from now, including myself. Equifax has released a secondary site that is supposed to help you check to see if your information is possibly affected, While they have provided this site for a quick reference, many people have come out saying it doesn’t help or share any details on how they may be affected. Equifax has agreed to provide free credit freezes if you file a request by Nov 21st. Because of the nature of the breach, how long will it take to speak with someone if you attempt to contact their call center? Due to my own personal interests and curiosity, I attempted to contact the 3 credit companies and even considered all options of protecting my credit.

There seems to be limited personal security options for consumers to protect their credit. The most safe and secure method would be placing a freeze on your credit. Through this process, you will have to contact each credit company and provide them the following; your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. Depending on location, you will also have to pay each company a service fee between $5 to $10. Once complete, you will also be assigned a PIN, from each company, for added security that will be required when you want to unfreeze your credit. Be extra careful and not lose these PIN’s as you will have to go through a process to request another copy of the PIN which will be received via the Mail. You will also be charged another $5 to $10 per company to unfreeze the credit. If you are looking to do a temporary unfreeze of your credit because you are opening a new line of credit, find out which company they will be pulling your report from and you can unfreeze with only that company to save yourself a few bucks.

Should I freeze my credit?  What are my options?

I have attempted to freeze my credit with each company and it isn’t as easy I expected. Although there is the option to submit the request online, the idea of submitting my information online raises more questions to me when there was already a security breach with Equifax. I attempted to contact the companies through their call centers, all ended with me disconnecting due to call times and overall experience. Attempting to contact Equifax, I received a busy tone 90% of the time just dialing their number. When I finally made it to their automated system, I was prompted to press 2 for their freeze credit department, once again I ended up with a busy tone. I moved on to the next company, Experian. I had better experience getting connected with their automated system and a recording suggested ‘Longer than normal wait times of 30 minutes’. Sadly, I never got through after waiting for more than 2 hours, I disconnected the call. Hoping for a better experience, I attempted TransUnion but with the same luck as Experian, I experienced extremely long wait time and ended up disconnecting the call. At this time, I will risk the internet world and submit my information Online to freeze my credit.

Another option would be credit monitoring like LifeLock. If you were to decide with a credit monitoring product, you are still at risk of fraud and identify thief. But with LifeLock, you are alerted and protected up to 1 million dollars, if you have their best package, and provided 1 million dollars in professional support correcting the damage that was caused by fraud.  You can expect to pay a monthly fee ranging from $10 to $30, not including taxes for their services. I feel that this would a good option, I just don’t know that I would want to experience the impact of someone making fraudulent accounts in my name. How long would this take to correct and what kind of impact would I experience long term because of someone else?

There has been a lot of focus around the idea of credit fraud but there is still the thread of Identity theft which can be as painful as credit fraud. Anyone who has your SSN and personal information can submit a tax return in your name. This can become another headache that is harder to protect yourself against. Even though the IRS does what they can to protect you and the falsification of tax returns, it happens every year to millions of people. I have worked within tax software for a number of years and can imagen how easy it is for someone to falsify a tax return. Due to that knowledge, I am one of those people who attempt to file my tax return as soon as possible to minimize those possibilities.

With everything that has gone down with Equifax, I feel that there needs to be more options and security around consumer credit. With technology and the threats worldwide due to hackers, we have to be more careful than ever. With what I have read and seen lately with this breach, I strongly feel that it is in my family best interests to place a freeze on my credit and would suggest the same to anyone else considering their options. I don’t feel that spending a monthly fee on credit monitoring is safe enough because of the long-term effects to your credit that this can cause. There is no promise or guarantee that if something was to happen while being monitored, that you will walk away without any impacts to your overall credit score.