What the Equifax Hack Really Means For You

There is a lot of misinformation out there about the Equifax security breach, or hack. I wrote up a quick blurb the night I heard about it to try and help, but now it’s been a few days and it’s clearer what is happening, and what people are thinking.

What Can I Really Do About the Equifax Hack?

About the only thing that might punish Equifax is if tons of Americans put a freeze on their Equifax credit reports and then refused to take them off when lenders ask.

Unfortunately, the answer is really that there is nothing you can do about the Equifax security breach. Unlike your usual credit card number theft, or username and password theft, the information the hackers got from Equifax isn’t able to be cancelled and replaced. This is your life, your addresses, employers, banks, cable company, cell phone company. It’s a master key for identity theft, and it exists out there forever, now. There is nothing you can do but watch and wait.

Let’s start with what won’t help you stay safe from the Equifax data breach.

  1. Changing usernames and passwords – The hackers didn’t get usernames and passwords. Assuming your usernames and passwords aren’t comical, like joesmith with a password of 123456, they are no more or less secure than they were before the hack happened. The difference is that now the bad guys know that Joe Smith has an account at Wells Fargo, so they know who to call and try and compromise your password.
  2. Contact your credit card company – If you happen to be part of the small subset of people who had a credit card number stolen, then yes, by all means you need a new card. My understanding is that card issuers are already notifying those customers they know about and sending them new cards. Otherwise, your card numbers aren’t part of your credit report.
  3. Cancel your Equifax account – I don’t who first suggested this, but you are not the customer at Equifax. You are the product. You don’t report your information to Equifax, you give your permission to your creditors to do it every time you apply for credit. You can’t opt-out of Equifax. If your mortgage company wants to use Equifax, they use Equifax. You have nothing to do with it.
  4. Freezing your credit report – This can have some limited value in that while your credit report is frozen, it can’t be used by criminals to open new accounts in your name. But, remember that’s just a drop in bucket of what this information is worth to the bad guys. Long-term identity theft, or using the information in your report to call up your bank (who your bank is, is in the report), and using all the information in it to answer the security questions to get a new PIN, new password, or even change your address is just the beginning of the possibilities. — Eventually, you’ll need to unfreeze your credit report. Unless you want to freeze your Equifax credit report forever as a way to punish the company.
  5. Lawsuit – Bigger, better funded lawyers than you are already on it. Even if you did sue, the court would stay your action until those big suits are settled.


How Can I Really Protect Myself From Equifax Data Breach?


What can you do, then to protect yourself from the Equifax hack?

The answer is to do what you should already be doing. Watch your bank statements. Log into your accounts regularly. Get explanations for any suspicious activity. Use some sort of free credit monitoring service to get emails when something happens on your credit report. Then OPEN those emails and make sure you don’t see anything out of the ordinary.

If someone starts opening accounts, they won’t open just one. So, it’s important to react right away. Call the credit bureaus and tell them that account is fraud. Put a fraud alert on your account. File a police report about the fraudulent account. Don’t try and close the account. That isn’t your account. You didn’t open it. You have no responsibility for it. Send the company that opened the account a copy of the police report and let them know that they are the victim of a crime, and that since you have notified them of such, any negative reporting on your credit is knowingly filing false information and a crime.

Right now, you are thinking, what if I put a fraud alert on now?

That sort of makes sense, but remember, this doesn’t end next month, next quarter, or even next year. This kind of fraud could start up in three years. So, you must be vigilant now, and sorry, but forever.

The good news is that is isn’t hard to watch your credit and keep an eye on your accounts, and you should be doing it already.

How Do I Get Equifax To Pay?

You might get some money from a class action lawsuit, but it won’t be much. Unfortunately, criminals never say where they got their information from, so even if they do use the Equifax breach to harm you, you won’t be able to directly link Equifax. Equifax knows this. Equifax will decide what is the amount of money they can pay to make this go away without hurting their stock price for too long and agree to pay it. Then, same old, same old.

If you think for one moment that Congress might do something, don’t hold your breath. The credit bureaus spend big money lobbying, and the banking industry likes having them. Congress will make a lot of noise, hold big, noisy hearings, maybe pass some little, new toothless regulations, but Equifax is going to be just fine when everybody moves on to the next outrage.

About the only thing that might punish Equifax is if tons of Americans put a freeze on their Equifax credit reports and then refused to take them off when lenders ask. Imagine hundreds of thousands of Americans (it would take that many to matter) telling Bank of America that they won’t take the freeze of their Equifax credit report, and that the bank must use one of the others or you’ll find another lender. That might just harm Equifax enough financially to sting. But, you’ll have to be willing to find new banks, and new lenders if they won’t use the other companies. It’s a bigger deal for you than Equifax unless you’re one of many.

So, if you feel righteous, go out and freeze your Equifax credit report and refuse to take it off. Tell your friends to do the same. Maybe you, me, and a million other Americans might take make that corporate smirk go away a little bit.

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