Equifax is one of the major credit bureaus that tracks and reports your credit score. This means they have access to your consumer data. Like your credit card information and usage and any other debt service you have. As the credit bureaus monitor your information, they provide you with a credit score that helps banks and lenders determine whether you’re reliable. This can affect the financing you’re eligible for.
This information, of course, is sensitive. And unfortunately, in 2017, Equifax experienced a data breach. During this data breach, approximately 147 million people were affected, and it leaked their private data to hackers. This data included information like credit card numbers and driver’s license information. There were even many British and Canadian citizens impacted by the breach. The Equifax breach is now one of the largest identity theft cybercrimes.
Were You Affected by the Equifax Data Breach?
The Equifax data breach put many Americans in danger of having their identities stolen, which has meant significant financial losses and legal battles for millions of people. The data breach occurred over nearly a month, and Equifax has also experienced some criticism for waiting to inform the public of the breach.
After the data breach became public knowledge, the Federal Trade Commission created a website to determine if you were affected by the data breach. This site is available here. To confirm if your data was leaked in the breach, you must submit your last name and the final 6 digits of your social security number.
The site is external to both the FTC and the Equifax websites, under a different domain. As such, it’s been criticized as unreliable, because it’s difficult to distinguish it from potential phishing sites. In fact, when this site was created, similar sites were created with similar domains for the sole purpose of phishing, further impacting people. Be careful of entering sensitive information into unknown or potentially suspicious sites.
What to Do If You Were Affected
If you were affected by the data breach, or suspect that you were, you can join the ongoing settlement. You can view the settlement here, which is now active. The settlement offers either a $125 payout, or free credit reporting from the three major credit bureaus. The settlement is also designed to cover any expenses you may have incurred trying to recover your stolen identity or fight fraud.
Although the initial date to submit a claim has passed as of January 22, 2020, you can still file a claim. If you have been facing fraud or identity theft related to the breach, you can file a claim up until January 22, 2024. If you do end up filing a claim, you can be reimbursed for money you’ve spent up to $20,000 for scenarios such as:
- Losses from fraudulent charges
- Fees paid for professional services (attorneys, accountants, etc) to recover your stolen identity
- Miscellaneous fees spent recovering your identity such as notary fees, postage, mileage, etc.
You may also be able to file a claim for the time you have personally spent recovering your identity, up to $500, based on a rate of $25 an hour.
Free Assistance to Recover from Identity Theft
If your identity has been stolen due to the data breach and you do not wish to file a claim for reimbursement, you can still get free help restoring your identity. This help is available as of January 2022 and becomes available if you confirm that your data was included in the breach. Once you submit your information, you are redirected to a confirmation page that supplies you with a phone number to call. When you do, you can access resources for free identity restoration.
Free Credit Reporting
Because of the data breach, everyone can now get 7 free credit reports each year as well. This can help you keep track of any fraudulent activity, and keep your credit score in good standing. To access this tool, you can visit Annual Credit Report.
Freeze Your Credit
While you cannot opt out of credit reporting from the credit bureaus (unless you never use credit), you can freeze your credit. When you freeze your credit, you simply block anyone from accessing your sensitive data without consent. This also means that someone cannot use your information to open a new account in your name, because the company won’t be able to pull a credit check. This is a good way to protect your information, especially if you have no intention of opening new accounts for a while.
In order to freeze your credit, you must, however, call or contact each of the three major credit bureaus individually: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Be prepared to share your personal information to initiate a freeze, including your name, social security number, address. You may also need additional documentation such as copies of your IDs, copies of tax documents, and bills that confirm your address.