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The Equifax Data Breach: What You Need to Know

Equifax, one of the three largest credit reporting agencies in the nation, announced last week that it suffered from a serious data breach, affecting nearly half the American population.
During the cyberattack, which lasted from mid-May to late July, nearly 143 million Americans had their personal information stolen, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and even for some, driver's license numbers. A smaller amount of individuals (about 209,000) had their credit card information stolen, while another 182,000 had dispute records accessed.

Needless to say, this is a huge issue for personal information security, and it keeps the door wide open for potential identity theft.

However, there are some smart prevention steps you can take to protect yourself, both through Equifax and on your own.

Free Credit Monitoring from Equifax

As part of its announcement last week, Equifax offered all American consumers the chance to enroll in free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services for one year. To do so, you can sign up at their special website, https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. You can check to see if you're affected and also receive a time slot for signing up for the free services.

There is a catch, however.

Legal experts have pointed out the fine print posted on the Equifax Security website. It prohibits users from joining any class action lawsuit. If you've already signed up and want to opt out afterwards, you can write to Equifax within 30 days. Other consumer watchdogs, including New York's attorney general, are already going after Equifax to remove the fine print. However, this has not occurred yet, so there's no guarantee.

Other Steps to Prevent Identity Theft

Since the Equifax data breach lasted over two months before it was discovered by anyone, you may already have had your personal information stolen, sold, and used. You can access free copies of your three credit reports by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

Experts recommend that you do this to make sure no one has opened any fraudulent accounts in your name. Make sure all accounts and credit lines listed on each credit report actually belong to you. You can also check your balances and credit card statements to ensure no one has been using your existing cards.

If you're still concerned about your personal information security, consider using a paid credit monitoring service. Unfortunately, the results from this data breach aren't short-term. Cyber criminals could sell and use your information for years to come. So, it's important to remain vigilant.

You don't want to be unpleasantly surprised by finding out that someone has squandered your hard-earned credit the next time you're ready to apply for a mortgage or want to refinance your home.
Another idea is to implement a credit freeze. For a small fee, you can place a restriction on your credit reports so that creditors can't access your information. If someone tries to apply for credit in your name, they'll most likely be denied because the creditor can't access that credit report.

If you want to apply for new credit yourself, you simply have to temporarily lift the freeze. You can choose to do so for either a pre-determined time period or for a certain party. Your credit score isn't affected when you perform these actions, it just costs a nominal fee each time you freeze or unfreeze your reports.

But as Benjamin Franklin is famous for saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

 

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