All settled up with Equifax? How you can keep your financial data safe post-breach

News of data breaches can be scary and upsetting. After all, you trust companies to safeguard your personal information, not expose it – which is what happened with Equifax Inc., one of the three major credit reporting agencies. 

Equifax has since settled a lawsuit about the breach, and you could be eligible for compensation. Here are the key details about the case, and what you should do now and for many years to come.

What happened with Equifax?

Between May and July of 2017, Equifax experienced a massive data breach. Hackers gained access to the credit files of approximately 145.5 million U.S. consumers. First and last names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, mailing addresses, and in some cases driver’s license numbers were compromised.

Investigations and lawsuits soon followed the incident. In July of 2019, the Federal Trade Commission and Equifax reached a settlement: the company agreed to dedicate $700 million to compensate those who were affected by the breach.

Although there have been no reports of unauthorized activity associated with the breach so far, be alert and get ready to take action, says Robert Siciliano, CEO and and security awareness expert at Safr.Me. “The information compromised in this breach, such as Social Security numbers, will ultimately lead to new account fraud,” says Siciliano. 

Know if you were affected, and what to do if you were

It’s not hard to find out if your information was affected by the breach. Just log onto the website Equifax has created for this purpose, or call 866-447-7559. In less than a minute you’ll know. The company will also be sending letters to people who were impacted.

If you learn that your information was compromised, your first step is to file a claim via this Equifax website. The form only takes a few minutes to complete, and it will take you through all of the options. 

You may be eligible for:

  • Credit monitoring. If you are concerned that your data may be used by someone other than yourself because of the breach, you can ask for and receive a free credit monitoring service. If you already have one, you may receive up to $125 to pay for it. 
  • Financial compensation. This comes in a couple of parts: 
    • If you spent time dealing with the fallout from the breach, you can file a claim that can compensate you for $25 per hour, for up to 20 hours. 
    • If you experienced financial losses as a result of the breach you can claim up to $20,000. Supporting documents, such as statements showing unauthorized charges, will be required. 

Don’t delay, though. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you must file a claim by January 22, 2020. After you do, wait. You will get the free credit monitoring after final court approval, at which stage you’ll be sent an activation code. The settlement administrator will not send cash payments until they are approved by the court. 

Another part of the settlement is that Equifax will provide extra credit reports for free; no claim needed. Starting in 2020, you and every consumer will be eligible for six free reports each year for seven years. They will be available for download from the main Equifax website.

What to do now and into the future

Unfortunately there is nothing you can do to prevent hackers from committing more data breaches. Companies are responsible for keeping their security systems tight, not you. What you can do, however, is protect yourself from what could happen before and after a breach. 

  • Check your credit reports. You’re entitled to one credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) every year for free, from www.annualcreditreport.com. Read them over carefully, and if you spot anything suspicious, dispute it with the credit reporting agency immediately. 
  • Enroll in a credit monitoring service. Each of the credit reporting agencies offers credit monitoring services, but so do many credit card issuers and separate security companies. Whichever you get, the service will constantly scan your files and alert you if it identifies suspicious activity. 
  • Contact your financial institutions. If you were affected by the Equifax breach, call all of your financial institutions. Let them know that your data has been compromised. This way they too can keep an eye out for fraud.
  • Read your account statements. Don’t just skip to the bottom of your credit card statements. Credit fraud can start so small you might not notice. Read every line item, and contact the issuer if you spot unrecognizable charges— even if it’s for only a few dollars. The crook may be testing what he can get away with, and then try for a much larger charge later. If your bank or credit card issuer provides text or email alerts for each transaction, sign up. You’ll know right away if someone else is using your account. 
  • Change your passwords. Update your password now, and then again every three months or so. You don’t want to give cyber criminals access to your online accounts. Security Magazine found the weakest passwords to be comprised of consecutive (12345) and constant numbers (11111) numbers, as well as common words and phrases such as “sunshine,” “iloveyou,” “princess,” and “admin.” Strengthen passwords with a mix of unguessable numbers and symbols, and unusual words spelled in uppercase and lowercase letters. 

Finally, vigilance is required, especially when communicating electronically. “Keep on the lookout for phishing emails that utilize information obtained from the breach,” says Siciliano. “It could make you, the potential victim, think you’re being communicated with by legitimate companies.” 

By taking action and being extra aware, you should be able to thwart a thief who has access to your precious personal and financial information – or who is already trying to use it. 

Source

Robert Siciliano CSP

 617-257-1870

safr.me

Erica Sandberg

San Francisco-based consumer finance journalist whose work appears in a wide variety of top-tier outlets.

Erica’s the resident money and credit authority for KRON-4 News and author of “Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families.” Erica is an amateur hockey player and ballet dancer and has the broken bones to prove it.