Security blunders at Equifax are much worse than originally thought. The consumer credit reporting agency exposed more than 145 million Americans' critical data earlier this year. As if that wasn't bad enough, victims who visited the Equifax site after the data breach may have been infected with malware.
Unfortunately, if your data was stolen during this breach, you will be dealing with it for the rest of your life. You won't believe the havoc it's already caused at least one woman who's speaking out about it.
How Equifax has turned one victim's life upside down
We're talking about a Seattle woman who was a part of the Equifax data breach. As you might already know, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, home addresses, and some drivers license and credit card numbers were all stolen during the breach.
Katie Van Fleet has been speaking out to local media, warning others about her dire situation. She told KOMO-TV last week, "I want to share my story and make people aware that this can happen to anybody."
Van Fleet said that her identity has been stolen 15 times since the Equifax data breach earlier this year. She said beginning in September, she started getting thank you letters in the mail for opening new lines of credit.
The first thank you letter came from Barneys New York for a line of credit opened under her name. Over the next few weeks, she received similar letters from Kohl's, Macy's, Home Depot, and Old Navy thanking her for her application. The thing is, she had not applied for credit from any of the retailers.
The fact is, this could happen to almost any of us. That's because most adults in the U.S. who have a credit history were probably impacted by the Equifax breach.
You didn't even need to be signed up for an Equifax product to potentially be impacted. As a precaution, you should consider setting up a credit freeze.
How to set up a credit freeze
To freeze your credit reports, you need to contact each of the three credit reporting bureaus via phone or their online forms:
Your personal information including your full name, Social Security number, date of birth, a copy of a government-issued ID and current and past addresses are required for the process.
You may also have to pay a fee, ranging from $5 to $10 per bureau, depending on your state. If you're a victim of identity theft, you can get a credit freeze for free if you can provide a copy of your police report or other supporting documents required by your state. Additionally, some states grant discounts to seniors over 65 and minors.
When the credit freeze takes effect, each bureau will send you a confirmation letter with a PIN code or password. Keep these in a secure place since these codes are required to lift the freeze.
In most states, a credit freeze will remain on an account until it is lifted by the account holder. However, keep in mind that in the states of Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Kentucky, a credit freeze will be automatically lifted after seven years.
What a credit freeze can and can't do
- A credit freeze will prevent you from opening new credit accounts.
- A credit freeze will not affect your credit score.
- Although it keeps criminals from creating new accounts under your name, a credit freeze won't stop them from charging your existing accounts. Continue monitoring your accounts for fraud.
- You, your current creditors and their collection agents can still access your credit reports.
- You can temporarily lift a credit freeze for specific parties like potential landlords or employers. Lifting and reinstating a credit freeze often requires additional fees.
- You can still get your free annual credit reports even when a credit freeze is in effect.
- Court orders, subpoenas, and search warrants may still grant government agencies access to your credit reports.
If a credit freeze sounds too extreme for you due to the restrictions, try a fraud alert instead. The three credit card reporting bureaus all have free, 90-day initial fraud alerts. When a fraud alert is in place, businesses requesting credit reports must contact you and verify your identity before a new account can be made.
In the wake of the massive Equifax data breach, here are some critical steps to protect your bank account
The name “Equifax” now sends shivers down our spines. The company we once trusted to handle our credit scores has become a pariah of the financial world, ever since it allowed hackers to steal vital information from 145 million American adults. I’m one of them. You probably are too. Now, you really need to know how to protect your financial life.