Credit Information Protection and The Equifax Data Breach
What are Credit Reporting Agencies?
In the United States, in order to apply for a loan, a new job, to qualify for a credit card, etc., the prospective company that you are going to do business with will run a credit report on you. They do this to essentially see your financial history/background and to see if you qualify for their product/service. Credit Reporting Agencies are the sources for this information, they have been tracking your financial history your entire life. There are three primary Credit Reporting Agencies that businesses use to get this information: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
These agencies are constantly providing and receiving data about you. This data is our financial background that follows us and the information that ultimately makes up our Credit Score. Therefore, credit agencies possess our most sensitive information like: Social Security Numbers, Address, Employment History, Bank Account Numbers, Loan Numbers, etc.
Equifax possess information on over 800 million individual customers and over 88 million businesses. Besides providing reports to businesses, Equifax also uses your data to aggregate with millions of others to create analytical reports that they then sell to a number of business, industries and advertisers.
Why has Equifax been in the news so much?
In March 2017 Equifax experienced a small breach in their software. This breach did not result in any missing data, so the breach was not publicly announced. Outside consultants were brought in to investigate the breach. In May, after two months of investigating Equifax’s system the consultant informed them of the problem and a potential resolution which would require Equifax to patch up the software. Equifax chose not to patch up the software and continued to use their current software without modification.
July 2017, Equifax discovered there was another breach, a larger one in which a lot of their customer’s information was stolen. Over 143 million people had their private information stolen in this breach. The public was not made aware of this for some time. Throughout August, and before the public was made aware of the breach, a few Equifax executives began to sell off their personal Equifax stocks.
Equifax waited until September 7, 2017 to inform the public of the March and July breaches. Meaning, unsuspecting victims were not made aware of their data being stolen for over a month’s time.
What can you do to protect yourself?
There are a few options to protect yourself going forward. Not to mention a few good habits to develop in keeping an eye on your sensitive financial information:
Check your bank accounts as often as possible.
Take advantage of your yearly free credit report from each bureau. Under, each bureau is required to provide you with your credit report on an annual basis. If planned correctly, you can access a credit report by one of the big three reporting agencies every four months.
Take advantage of the alerts offered by your Credit Card and Debit Card providers.
Credit Protection Options:
Credit monitoring services offered by the bureaus. Some services are free, others that provide more info will cost money. (Full Disclosure: I use Experian’s free monitoring service.)
Third Party credit monitoring services, like Credit Karma. Most of these services will cost something.
Freezing your credit. This is the safest option, but also the most difficult to setup. This is essentially locking your credit so that no one can freely access it, including businesses. In order to do this, you must contact each of the three Credit Reporting Agencies and put your information with them on lock. If you or a company wants to run your credit report, you must approve of it and provide the specific Agency with a pre-determined pin.
In most cases, there is cost in freezing your credit. Each time you want to setup a freeze and each time you want to temporarily allow access to your credit background you have to pay a fee. The fee varies per state. Below I have provided a link with the exact steps in how to freeze your credit and the costs associated by your state to do this.
To check and see if your information was compromised during the breach, below is a link to the Equifax site that walks you through the process. We've also provided a link that allows you to check your prospective state's fees.
For more information on this, click the image or the link above. For any further questions you may have, please contact us.
Clark offers a thorough guide on how to freeze your credit, as well the contact information for each agency. We also provided a link to a free credit monitoring service done through freecreditreport.com.
For info on Clark's Guide, click the Clark image. For more info on free monitoring service, click here. If you any further questions, please contact us.
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