The Equifax Data Breach: What You Can Do to Protect Your Credit File

Equifax Data Breach

You read the papers, right? Or at least you saw the onslaught of articles, blogs and opinion pieces about how some still-unknown hackers breached one of (supposedly, anyway) the most secure servers…ones which house credit data on pretty much anyone that has ever bought something on credit. It’s Equifax, one of the three primary credit repositories. The other two are Experian and TransUnion. So what happened?

According to reports, some 143 million credit files were hacked into and retrieved in the Equifax data breach. No one knows at this point who the “bad guys” are but whoever was clever enough to do what they did is probably more than clever enough to leave no tracks. Equifax has provided consumers with a website that can allegedly provide details about whether or not an individual’s credit profile was compromised. And since most every merchant and creditor reports to Equifax, that probably means most everyone who has a credit card, automobile loan or student loan. But there are some things that consumers can do to at least monitor and protect their credit but before we give those tips let’s talk about what credit reports know about you based simply upon what’s in your credit report. What bits of data can be revealed?

Data Bits

The three main credit repositories provide merchants with an individual’s credit information. These businesses subscribe to the three repositories while at the same time agreeing to provide the three with payment patterns of their debtors. Some merchants don’t subscribe to all three, some of the smaller, regional ones do not, but most do.

Credit reports provide a creditor essential data about an individual’s payment history with regards to monthly credit obligations. The most important data bits identify the individual. This means a person’s legal name and any previously used names. For instance, someone gets married and the surname changes. Or a guy named Robert also was known by the name of Bob. Or Bobby. Or Robbie.

If a creditor is more than 30 days late on a credit account, the subscribing merchant will report that information. If someone is more than 60 and 90 days late, more reporting is made. In the event of a collection account, that too is reported. Civil judgments regarding creditor vs. debtor are listed on a credit report as well.

Credit reports also list where someone has lived with property addresses. That’s surprising to some because who really cares where someone has lived in the past? The answer is it helps to identify the individual who has applied for credit. There are lots of John Smiths and Mary Janes in the world and an address helps pare out any misinformation.

What’s not in a person’s credit report? A medical history won’t show up in a report unless there are collection accounts regarding past due payments to medical providers, which these days lenders don’t pay much attention to anyway.

Credit reports don’t have any information regarding an employment history including whether or not someone is currently employed or how much money someone makes each month. Any criminal history, no matter how small, won’t appear unless there’s an instance of a past due parking or speeding ticket that went unpaid and instead was sent to a collection agency.

In summary: The Equifax data breach may have given away your legal name, list of identifying addresses, both previous and current, and any collection accounts. It will not include your medical history, employment history, or criminal history, unless you had any medical or criminality-based collection accounts.

What You Can Do Now:

If there were 143 million files stolen, it’s likely you’re one of them. How do you know for sure? The offending repository has provided a free check to see if your information was compromised in the Equifax data breach. The site is www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. By logging on, you’ll see a tab marked “Potential Impact” and after you click on the tab you’ll be asked to provide your personal identification info including name and social security number. If you’re on the list, it’s time to take the next step.

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The first may be to simply “freeze” your credit file. This means no one can access your credit file although Equifax claimed the same. However, with a freeze, even a mortgage company can’t pull a credit report without your permission. Not only just without your permission, but you’ll literally have to cancel the freeze. If you’re applying for a mortgage, know this in advance. Is a freeze necessary? We’re not sure, but it might very well be the prudent choice. At least for the time being and it’s absolutely your call.

The next step is to pull your own credit report to see what it looks like. The three repositories, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion provide and support a website that lets you access your credit report for free once per year at www.annualcreditreport.com. Log on and see if there are any new accounts you did not authorize as well as see if there are any charges that are not yours. You should also look at your bank statements to see if there are any unauthorized withdrawals.

This might sound a little scary but being proactive will help stop any fraudulent activity. But it’s time to be a bit vigilant and in reality is something that creditors and consumer advocates say you should always be doing anyway regardless of anything Equifax did or didn’t do. If there are unauthorized transactions on your credit report or accounts you did not open, all three repositories allow for a free dispute process on their websites.

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