Equifax Happened: Here’s a Checklist

Sep 14, 2017 by

image via LegalReader.com

So, in addition to the natural disasters ravaging the planet AND the dumpster fire that is the current presidential administration, we have THIS to deal with this week: Equifax announced that 143 MILLION Americans have had their social security numbers, credit card info, addresses, etc, all stolen in a massive data breach.  Now, you might be thinking: “I don’t use Equifax.”  It doesn’t work like that — if you’re an American adult, Equifax uses you.  They have your data, guaranteed.  And there’s about a 57% chance that now, some horrible hacker has it, too.

I’m not a tech whiz, BUT I have been the victim of identity theft multiple times, so I keep a close eye on my credit. AND I’m an excellent synthesizer of information.  SO I read a bunch of articles about how to handle this data breach, created a checklist for myself, and then thought, why not pass this info along to everyone?  So here it is: here is what you need to do, step-by-step, with a few notes from me about what I encountered in my journey to check all these things off.  It took me under an hour to do everything, INCLUDING make the list.  You can do this.  It’s SO necessary.

NOTE: Have your phone handy.  Several of the things I set up texted me a phone verification code.

STEP ONE (optional): Watch this video


This step is for you if you think the data breach won’t effect you, or this is a problem that will fade away, or you don’t understand what the real repercussions of this type of identity theft could be.  This isn’t just a credit card you can cancel — it’s your social security number.  If you’re already well aware of how bad this is, you don’t need to watch the video.  WARNING: some NSFW language included here, because we’re adults.

STEP TWO : Create your account on the Social Security Administration website before someone else does

https://www.ssa.gov

  • Easy-peasy.  It takes five minutes, it’s free, and you can monitor what’s going on with your social security number for the rest of your life.  You should have this anyway, even if no one stole your data.
  • NOTE: Under Federal law, you can only set up your own account, so no setting one up for your spouse or kid or anything.
  • NOTE: Do this first, because you won’t be able to set it up after you freeze your credit scores (final step).

STEP THREE (optional): Go to Equifax’s website and find out if they think you’ve been hacked

https://trustedidpremier.com/eligibility/eligibility.html

  • I’m making this one optional because we should all act as if we’ve been hacked.  I put in my info and it said I was probably hacked, I put in Miles’s info and it said he was probably hacked, and then I put in random info I made up and it said that made-up person was probably hacked.  So, as the NY Times pointed out, it’s most likely Equifax doesn’t know if you’ve been hacked or not.
  • After you check on yourself, Equifax will offer to enroll you in a year of credit monitoring, something called “Trusted Premier,” for free.  This is dumb for many reasons (see video above), not the least of which is that you’ll be automatically charged for this service at the end of the year, and they straight-up tell you they won’t email you to remind you to cancel it.
  • I signed up for it, because I know myself.  I’m paranoid and I’m also good at remembering to cancel free trials.  I immediately put a reminder to cancel in my calendar for a year from yesterday.
  • NOTE: by enrolling in this service, you might somehow impede your right to sue Equifax for their massive screw-up.  It’s explained in depth in the video above.  I know I’m not going to bring a suit against them, but if you think you might, or you want to be able to join the inevitable class-action law suit that will arise, don’t sign up for this monitoring thing.  More info about why you might not want to sign up, at CNBC (click here).

STEP FOUR: Sign up for Credit Karma.  Check out what’s going on with your credit right now.

https://www.creditkarma.com/

  • It’s free.
  • You can see your TransUnion and Equifax scores immediately, as well as tons of other info.  You can request a credit score as many times a year as you want.
  • I’ve had Credit Karma for a while (if you’re ever apartment-hunting in NYC, it’s a great thing to have), and I can’t recommend it enough.  So you should sign up, and then click on each of your reports, and make sure that everything there looks right.  This data was stolen MONTHS ago at this point, Equifax only just deigned to tell us about it.
  • Scroll all the way down both reports.  You’ll be able to see/verify if any loans are out in your name, any legal judgments (bankruptcies, etc) are in your name, if there are any collections agencies after you, AND if anyone has recently made a hard inquiry on your account (ie, applied for a credit card in your name).
  • Once you have verified that everything is accurate in both the Equifax and TransUnion reports, move on to the next step.

STEP FIVE: Get a free credit report RIGHT NOW.

https://www.annualcreditreport.com

  • That link above is the federal government’s authorized source.  You can request one per year from all three major credit bureaus.
  • Keep a paper file and a digital file.  You’ll have proof of where your credit was TODAY, and since you used Credit Karma to check and make sure everything is correct, you’ll know it reflects only the credit history YOU have created.
  • NOTE: So many people are using this site right now that I got error messages the first couple of times I tried to get my reports.  Keep at it.

STEP SIX (optional): Freeze your credit scores where they are.

  • This one is optional because if you’re soon to be moving, or trying to buy a car, or getting a new cell phone plan, etc, then you should wait and do it after all that.  But if you’re not going to be using your credit scores anytime soon, DO THIS.
  • After your scores are frozen, you’ll have to remember to thaw them when you want to do any of the above.  It’s one more thing to remember to do, yes, but it’s only three phone calls/web clicks, and it’s the best way to keep your identity safe so you actually CAN buy that boat when the time comes.
  • It’s a bit of a pain because you have to contact all three bureaus separately, but it’s actually the only form of protection you have against this hack.  All of the previous steps have been vigilance/monitoring.
  • You can call an automated system, or use a website for all three of the bureaus.  I’ve previously had my credit card info stolen by giving that information over a cell phone, so I prefer to use a secure website (little lock icon next to the URL at the top).

TransUnion

https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze

  • Easy-to-use website.  Very quick process.
  • You’ll quickly set up an account on TrueIdentity, a completely free service TransUnion offers.
  • You can turn the freeze on and off inside TrueIdentity with one click.  You can also sign up for mobile alerts, and TrueIdentity will text you if anyone applies for credit in your name, which is an awesome feature.  Couldn’t be easier — I am seriously impressed.
  • Or call 1-888-909-8872

Experian

https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html

  • This was by far the easiest of the three.
  • Answer a few identity-proving questions, and the freeze is in place.
  • NOTE: Write down the pin you choose/they give you, or have them email it to you.  You’ll need it to thaw the freeze later, and word is they won’t resend it to you, as a fraud-prevention method.
  • Or call 1-888-397-3742

Equifax

https://www.freeze.equifax.com/

  • Perhaps not surprisingly, this was the most difficult of the three to get frozen.  Go figure.
  • I snarkly thought, when I arrived at the URL, “No wonder you got hacked.  How old is this website?”
  • The first few times I tried to install the freeze, I got the message: “We are currently unable to service your request. Please try again later.”  I assume because so many people are trying to do the same right now.  Keep at it.
  • Or call 1-800-349-9960
  • NOTE:  I got a busy signal when I tried calling (because the website didn’t work).  Went back to the website.

 

Okay, now that you have placed these freezes, no one should be able to interact with your credit (except you, after you thaw said freezes).  This won’t impeded anything you currently have going on, any bills you’re paying, etc, but it will prevent NEW interactions from popping up.  Which is what you’re after.

Congrats — you did it!  You win!

Next stop — climate change!

My Sources/Resources:

Equifax’s Instructions Are Confusing. Here’s What to Do Now. || The New York Times

3 reasons breach victims might not want Equifax credit monitoring || CNBC

How to Find Out If You Were Affected by the Equifax Hack || LifeHacker

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