Smooth Move, Equifax

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Equifax—one of the three major U.S. credit reporting bureaus—recently revealed they suffered a security breach so expansive, roughly 143 million Americans are likely to have been affected.  143,000,000 people—that’s approximately the population of Russia.  As a data-collecting and reporting agency, Equifax obtains and stores very sensitive consumer data including, but not limited to: names, addresses, social security numbers, dates of birth and credit card numbers.

So what does this mean for you?  Unfortunately, there’s a very real possibility that the security of your personal information or someone you know has been compromised.  (And it certainly doesn't help matters that Equifax waited over a month to report the breach to the public.) Equifax has created a separate, dedicated website which will allow you to check whether your information may have been compromised: Earlier this week, Equifax's interim CEO, Paulino do Rego Barros, Jr., issued the following statement for The Wall Street Journal, and revealed the company’s plans for a new credit-monitoring tool:

“On behalf of Equifax, I want to express my sincere and total apology… By Jan. 31, Equifax will offer a new service allowing all consumers the option of controlling access to their personal credit data. The service we are developing will let consumers easily lock and unlock access to their Equifax credit files. You will be able to do this at will. It will be reliable, safe and simple. Most significantly, the service will be offered free, for life."

In other words, watch this space.

What else can you do?  It’s always a good idea to monitor your credit report.  You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.  Review each report, taking care to identify any accounts you don’t recognize or incorrect information, such as a wrong address.  Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website for more information:

The strongest measure you can take is to freeze your credit.  Doing so prevents new creditors from accessing your credit report, which makes it difficult for identity thieves to take out a credit card or a loan in your name.  You must contact each credit agency individually to do this, and there are fees to do so which vary by state.  Bear in mind that if you want to apply for a loan or credit card while the freeze is in place, you’ll have to contact each reporting agency separately to request a lift on the freeze and you’ll likely have to pay additional fees.

No matter which measure/measures you choose to take, awareness is crucial. Review your credit report, monitor your credit card and bank statements, and don't hesitate to report anything that looks suspicious. The old adage rings true: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."