After Equifax revealed that a “cybersecurity incident” has potentially exposed the personal information of 143 million Americans, the credit reporting agency set up a website to let consumers know if they may have been affected.
But many people, myself included, say the website has left them with more questions than answers.
What you need to know about Equifax’s data breach website
Money expert Clark Howard said this is “absolutely the worst data breach in the history of the modern era,” so it’s understandable why so many people rushed online to see if they had reason to worry.
When you go to EquifaxSecurity2017.com, the first thing you see is a recap of the headlines that have been making news around the world:
- Criminals exploited a U.S.-based website application vulnerability to gain access to certain files
- Unauthorized access occurred from mid-May through July 2017
- Information accessed primarily includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers
- Credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers and certain dispute documents for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers were accessed
- Unauthorized access to limited personal information for certain U.K. and Canadian residents
According to Equifax’s website, you can click on “Potential Impact” to find out if you could be affected and sign up for a year of free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection.
When I clicked on that link, I was asked to give my last name and last six digits of my Social Security number.
After filling out the required information, Equifax didn’t provide me with a yes or no answer about whether I was vulnerable. I tried a second time and got this response:
“Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information was not impacted by this incident.”
Sigh of relief? Not so fast! I got a different answer the third time I tried. Equifax said my personal information may have been impacted by the incident.
So, was I affected or not? I still don’t have a yes or no answer, but it sounds like a maybe.
Equifax gave me an enrollment date to return to the site to sign up for TrustedID Premier, the complimentary identity theft protection and credit file monitoring.
I then called Equifax’s call center at 866-447-7559 for clarification, but the line was busy. Imagine that.
My next call was to Clark, and he said you should not enroll in Equifax’s program! The breach is so severe that the criminals will be able to use this information for decades, so one year of TrustedID Premier isn’t good enough.
“My advice is don’t go to Equifax’s website. Assume you are affected and act accordingly,” Clark said.
If you’ve already checked Equifax’s site — like me — just don’t go back on the date you were provided to finish the enrollment process.
Instead, Clark recommends that you sign up for Credit Karma’s credit monitoring. It’s 100% free!
Follow these two steps to protect your identity:
- Sign up for an account with creditkarma.com to get free credit monitoring and notifications of suspicious activity
- Freeze your credit at all three main credit bureaus
Clark: The only answer is a credit freeze
In this case, the best way to protect yourself is a credit freeze. It will probably cost you a few bucks to set up with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion individually, but a credit freeze will shut the criminals down cold.
A credit freeze allows you to seal your credit reports and use a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can use to temporarily “thaw” your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed. The added layer of security means that thieves can’t establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information.
Freezing your credit files has no impact whatsoever on your existing lines of credit, such as credit cards. You can continue to use them as you regularly would even when your credit is frozen.
The cost typically ranges from about $3 to $10 per person per bureau to freeze a credit report, although some states don’t charge a fee.
Equifax posted the following update on its website September 11:
We are committed to keeping consumers updated on the steps we are taking to provide them with the support they need and address any issues they are facing in response to this incident. We recognize that some consumers continue to face challenges and in response we have made the following updates:
1) Adjusted our PIN Generation for Security Freezes
We understand and appreciate that consumers have questions about how a PIN is currently generated for a consumer initiating an Equifax security freeze solution. All consumers placing a security freeze will be provided a randomly generated PIN.
2) Call Center Support
When we recognized that Hurricane Irma could impact some of our call center wait times, we arranged to ramp up agents quickly to replace agents impacted by the storm and updated our website to make consumers aware of the situation.
3) Clarification Regarding Automatic Sign-Up to TrustedID Premier
We are not requesting consumers’ credit card information when they sign up for the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection we are offering to all U.S. consumers. Consumers who sign up for TrustedID Premier will not be automatically enrolled or charged after the conclusion of the complimentary year of TrustedID Premier.
4) Obvious Link from Equifax.com
To make it easier for consumers to find the website dedicated to providing information about this incident, we have reconfigured our website, http://www.equifax.com, to feature the link more prominently.
5) Adjusted the TrustedID Premier and Clarified Equifax.com
We are listening to issues consumers have experienced and their suggestions. These are helping to further inform our actions, and we are now sharing regular updates on this website. Thank you for your continued patience and feedback as we continue to improve this process.