The recent Equifax data breach is now considered the largest credit data breach in history. It affects almost half of the entire U.S. population. Chances are, if you live in the U.S. and you have a credit card, you are most likely affected.
The company detected the attack on July 29 and the unauthorized access may have occurred from mid-May through July 2017. The cybercriminals allegedly exploited a U.S. website application vulnerability to gain access.
The amount of personal information stolen is staggering. It includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and even driver's license numbers.
To inform the public, Equifax has begun sending out direct mail alerts to customers whose information was included in the data breach. So keep an eye out for this notice in your mailbox.
You can also call Equifax's dedicated customer care number 866-447-7559 to check, but judging by the magnitude of the breach, long wait times are expected.
The company also opened a dedicated website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, to help consumers check if any of their information has been affected.
Note before you do: You really need to read on to learn why this tool is raising more questions than answers.
Additionally, Equifax is offering affected consumers a chance to get a year's worth of identity theft protection and credit file monitoring for free via its own TrustedID Premier service.
But wait, before you use Equifax's tool and enroll in its credit file monitoring service, here are some important points to consider.
Should you trust Equifax's tool?
With Equifax's tool, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, the company claims you can access it to check if you are affected by the data breach, is it a good idea to use it?
- First, the tool requires you to provide your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number to initiate the check. Would you really want to hand over more of your info to a company that just experienced the largest credit bureau data breach in history?
- Second, the tool states that "based on that information, you will receive a message indicating whether your personal information may have been impacted by this incident." The use of the word "may" implies that the tool does not even give a definite answer whether your data was indeed compromised.
Now, if you do want to proceed, just follow the tool's steps and click "Check Potential Impact."
Some reports are even saying that the tool will say that you are impacted no matter what name you put in. Although we have seen "not affected" results, feeding it with random names and numbers will always return a "may have been impacted" result.
If the tool reports that you are indeed affected, you will be given a specific enrollment date to complete the sign-up process for TrustedID Premier.
Equifax's TrustedID's Terms of Service: Does it take away your right to sue?
Now, here's where it gets a little murky. If you were found by the tool to have been affected by the data breach, you will be offered a chance to use Equifax's own credit monitoring program, TrustedID Premier, free of charge for one year.
The problem is that if you do enroll, you will have to agree to its Terms of Service. As people began combing through all that legal jargon, they noticed something that was a little sketchy. A clause originally stated that anyone who signed up for the TrustedID Premier program was waiving their rights to join a class action suit against Equifax down the road.
Naturally, this caused a frenzy! This is why we've been warning you against signing up for the program all along. However, just recently, the New York Attorney General required that Equifax remove this language from its Terms of Service immediately.
Now, Equifax has updated its website to state:
So, is it safe to sign up now?
Even with the revised Terms of Service, we're still hesitant to recommend signing up for this free credit monitoring service since - again - it's from the same company that just had the worst credit data breach in history.
Additionally, since the wealth of information stolen is extensive, do you think one year of free credit monitoring is enough? Often times, data that's stolen from companies doesn't show up again until years down the road. Remember the Yahoo breach? The breach itself happened around 18 months prior to officials discovering the private information posted for sale on the Dark Web.
That's why we believe the threat of identity theft for those affected in the Equifax breach will surely be lifelong.
Bottom line: If you were already assigned a TrustedID Premier enrollment date, just skip it and don't bother completing the sign-up process.
What to do instead
With that said, rather than signing up for Equifax's free monitoring service, it's better to put a credit freeze on your accounts. This is an important step we recommend you take to protect your identity under any circumstance because it helps stop criminals from opening credit card accounts under your name.
A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, allows you to restrict access to your credit reports and scores provided by the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and yes, Equifax).
Locking up your credit reports will prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts under your name even when they have managed to steal your personal information.
Since lenders are required to check your credit report before they can approve a new application, a credit freeze can stop fraudulent accounts from being made at your expense.
Setting up a credit freeze might sound difficult, but we promise it's not. In fact, we've written an entire tip about it with step-by-step instructions. If you believe your private information has been compromised by this or one of the many past data breaches, then you need to take our advice to protect your finances.
--> Click here and we'll show you how to set up a credit freeze and protect your identity! This is very important.