Equifax has accidentally dumped 143 million identities on the internet. The leak may include all your identifying information, including names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and more. Here’s how to know if you’re affected, and if you are, what your next steps should be.
First off, be aware that there’s likely a lot more to this story. Equifax executives dumped stock before announcing this breach, and that’s not the only shady thing going on. If you use Equifax’s official site to check your vulnerability, you’ll discover they’re using this to promote their fraud alert service. Furthermore the site isn’t entirely accurate: Last night, an Uproxx writer entered their information and was told there wasn’t any risk. They did the same this morning and suddenly there was one.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go through Equifax. You can approach each credit bureau independently to protect your account. You’ve got two options: A total freeze, meaning nobody can look at your report unless you explicitly unlock it for their perusal, or a fraud alert, where your bureau will contact you whenever they receive a request to look at your report to clear it with you.
Which you choose should depend on how you’re using credit. If you’re shopping for a house or car, looking to open a new credit card, or otherwise about to make a major credit purchase, you probably should use a fraud alert and let any potential creditors know you’ve instituted one. It may slow down the process a bit, unfortunately, but that’s better than having your credit trashed. If you’re not using your credit heavily, a freeze is probably best. That will make it impossible for anyone to access your report unless you specifically lift the freeze, either temporarily or permanently. Don’t worry: A credit freeze has no effect on your credit score and won’t impact your current open accounts.
That said, instituting either will take work. You’ll need to visit each of the three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, independently and set up the freeze or alert separately. It will cost you between $5 and $10 per bureau, depending on state law. We tried both phone systems and online registration, and found registering online to be faster and easier. That said, Equifax is clearly overwhelmed, for obvious reasons, and seems to be requesting people mail them freeze requests. Also, now would be a good time to use your free credit report. If thieves somehow squeaked in before the wire, you can spot the problem early and get rid of it.
Remember, a freeze only keeps thieves from opening new accounts. They can still hijack your current cards and accounts if you don’t properly protect them. Talk with your bank and credit card companies about the risks, and what you can do to protect yourself. Beyond that, just use common sense. If something sounds too good to be true, or an email seems fishy, don’t touch it. Erring on the side of caution is often the best way to protect yourself, on the internet or in real life.