In case you somehow haven’t heard by now, Equifax — one of the three major credit bureaus — has announced that it was the victim of a cyber attack. As a result, a reported 143 million Equifax customers have had their data compromised. Of course, “customer” is used loosely in this sense as most Americans have no choice to be Equifax customers whether they realize it or not. Essentially, if you have credit, you use Equifax.
So what should you do? The first thing to pull your credit report to ensure all of the current data is correct and that no new accounts have been opened without your knowledge. This can be done by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com, which entitles you to download one free report from each bureau each year. While you might think it’s likely too early for the hackers to have made use of your information, it turns out that the attack itself happened several weeks ago, with Equifax learning about it sometime later and then waiting to tell the public… lovely, eh?
Anyway, once you ensure that your current credit report is accurate, you may want to consider a credit freeze. By freezing your credit, others will not be able to pull your report and, in turn, no new accounts can be created. However, your current credit cards, loans, and other lines of credit won’t be affected and you’ll still be able to use those. This plan of action might be a good idea as long as you don’t have any plan to request credit — be it in the form of a car loan, mortgage, new credit card, etc. — in the foreseeable future. Should you later need to unfreeze your credit, you can lift it either temporarily or permanent by using a pin that will be issued to you when you first initiate the freeze.
One small downside to ordering a credit freeze is that it will likely cost you a few dollars to instate. Although Equifax has agreed to waive its fees for the time being, it’s important to remember you’ll want to put freezes on your accounts will all three bureaus. For a detailed list of prices (which vary by state), Mic has a great roundup. Also note that freezing your credit won’t prevent hackers from utilizing your current accounts, so you’ll want to be vigilant about monitoring your credit and perhaps even subscribe to a monitoring service.
To put it bluntly, the Equifax situation sucks. Given the massive scale of this data breach, nearly all Americans need to start paying extra attention to their credit reports immediately. Furthermore, if you don’t have plans on opening new credit accounts and want to prevent others from creating accounts in your name, you really might want to look into freezing your credit across all three bureaus. Best of luck to all of us.