As we sit on the other side of the weekend, Equifax still hasn't made much clear regarding the 143MN person data breach that left exposed social security numbers, drivers licenses, credit card info, and other sensitive information.
The latest news states that the Attorney General for New York has already opened an investigation into Equifax, and Congress has outlined that it will hold two Congressional hearings soon to further scrutinize the situation. While many are still left puzzled as how to properly do damage control, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has outlined a few ways to take back control of your identity, without the help of Equifax.
The Warning Signs
The first step in checking for identity theft is to compare all your credit scores. You're entitled to a free credit report every year from Equifax (EFX), Experian (EXPN) , and TransUnion (TRU), and you can go here to request a copy. There are a few signs to check on a credit report that can flag identity theft, such as:
- New accounts on a credit check that you don't recognize
- Incorrect personal information on a report
- Credit inquiries from unfamiliar companies
- Wrong dollar amounts on any of your accounts
- Missing money from accounts
- Bills no longer being sent to you
Free Ways to Monitor and Protect
If you've already checked your credit report for free this year and don't want to pay, or if you're just rightfully suspicious of entering an identity fraud service from the company that just lost your data, there are a few other ways to protect yourself. The CFPB outlines:
- Security Freeze- This requires the work of calling all three credit reporting companies, but can prevent identity theives from opening accounts in your name. A freeze is pretty self-explanatory, creditors won't be able to access your reports and won't offer anyone using your information any new lines of credit. This includes you however, so don't forget about the freeze if you're planning to apply for any new loans or open any new accounts.
- Fraud Alerts- Slightly different from a freeze, a fraud alert requires that creditors take extra steps in verifying who you are before being able to open accounts, lines of credit, and even increasing credit limits on pre-existing accounts. The alerts can be activated for the normal 90-day period, (after which it will expire on its own) or you can ask for an extended alert which is good for seven years. Either way you won't have to call all three services, if you place an alert through one company, the others will be notified.
The CFPB also warns consumers in using identity/credit monitoring services that are usually offered after a breach (such as Equifax's TrustedID service), to watch out for hidden fees, trial periods, and other fine-print rules that can end up costing customers more money. Many are concerned that arbitration rules found in Equifax's terms of service might block anyone from suing the company, but Equifax has stated that the clause does not apply to "the cybersecurity incident", only for credit reporting services.
Earlier this year the CFPB created a new arbitration rule to help consumers sue large banks and credit companies, which seems to have come just in time. You can read the full announcement on how to protect your identity from the bureau here as well.
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