If you are wondering whether to be worried about the Equifax hack, the answer is yes. You should be worried. However, you do not need to panic.
By now, you should probably have some rudimentary credit monitoring whether it comes through a free credit score service like Credit Karma, or from your bank, or one of your credit cards. You’ll want to read all of those emails more closely from now on. It you see something that isn’t right, contact the credit issuer right away to let them know about fraud, as well as call the credit bureaus.
You can go check if your information was some of the one affected, however, even if you check now, check again in a few weeks. The ALWAYS find more accounts were affected than they originally thought after they bring in experts and begin devoting resources to investigating what happened.
What Should I Do About the Equifax Hack?
You should probably write a letter to your Congressman and Senators demanding they do something. It’s time to come up with a new way to uniquely identify citizens for credit purposes. You should also be able to freeze and unfreeze access to your credit report for free.
Next, if you don’t do it already, you should get your free credit reports on a spread out, rotating basis so you can compare what is on it now, with whatever might get put on it in the future.
Equifax is offering free credit monitoring but that isn’t as big of deal as you might think. The reality is that they will just send you a notice. It is still on you to do something with that information.
Should I Freeze My Credit?
Maybe. If you personal finances are currently setup the way you like and you see no need to open any additional credit in the next six months to a year, a credit report freeze can’t hurt. However, the credit reporting companies charge you to put a freeze on your credit report. How much it costs typically varies based on state law. At this point, you may want to write your state Congressperson and Senators as well and demand a law that says credit bureaus must give you a free freeze and unfreeze each year.
The credit bureaus make it difficult to freeze and unfreeze (notice how you can do anything else online) on purpose so that more people don’t do it. Otherwise, if you could have free, online, credit freezes on demand, the smart thing to do would be to freeze your credit and leave it frozen until you are ready to apply for something. But, that would cut into their earnings because they make money off of people accessing live credit reports. No financial institution is going to pay for reports that a frozen.
Should I File a Fraud Report?
This can be like a credit report freeze-lite. You contact one credit reporting company and tell them to put a fraud alert on your report. By law, they are required to notify the other two credit bureaus, but you may as well notify all three of them.
A fraud alert is a huge red flag and reputable lenders will not extend you (or hackers) any credit while there is a fraud report on your credit. The downside is that if you legitimately need someone to access your credit report, you’ll have to get the fraud report taken off first.
Fraud reports last 90 days. This sounds like a lot, but remember this data will be out there forever, and constantly accessed and reaccessed every time a bad guy gets an idea how to use it, so don’t go complacent after the 90 days.
What If My Credit Card Number Was Exposed?
If your actual credit card number was exposed, Equifax will notify you by mail. They may also notify the credit card company. Either way, if you learn your number was exposed, call your credit card company right away and ask for a new card with a new number. Tell them why. They’d rather not be liable for any fraudulent charges on your credit card.
I’ll update this with more information when I get some time. For now, don’t panic, but go into proactive, protection mode.