The Equifax Breach and what you really need to do!
Oh no! Someone hacked into Equifax and stole my Social Security Number, my Driver’s license number and all the information they would need to steal my identity! HELP HELP!
This article is going to be contrary to everything you have been told about this breach and at the same time it’s going to confirm everything you have been told. I realize this statement is confusing so let me begin.
First, to confirm, Equifax says that 145 million people have been affected by the breach. If you don’t know the full story, it was simply poor management that did not make sure a known security update was installed. Many programs, for use in business and home, will have security updates as the manufacturer of the software finds breaches. You have probably seen your software programs give you a warning that a security update is needed. This is very common with operating systems like Windows or your phone OS. When you get this update notice, you should immediately update your software to be sure that your computer will not be compromised.
In the case of Equifax, they received a notice to update a specific software and they didn’t implement it timely. Hackers look for this kind of mistake and found the jackpot in Equifax.
So, what does this mean?
Equifax is a company that supplies all your credit data to companies that provide loans for houses, cars, credit cards and other personal and business credit. They also provide information to employers that may be pertinent in making a hiring decision. This data includes everything from your credit card companies, (sometimes including the credit card account numbers), to your address and social security number. They also have your driver’s license number and may even have your mother’s maiden name. Once again, with all this information, someone can easily become you and take out credit in your name using your social security number and other information. You can imagine how this can screw up your credit and possibly your finances.
If you remember, Target was the victim of a breach about a year and half ago. This breach took your credit card numbers and any information Target had captured during transactions. This, of course, could lead to you finding transactions on your credit card that you weren’t aware of. Again, could be a problem for your credit worthiness.
Who is really affected by this? The answer will surprise you or confuse you. The answer is “everyone” and “no one”.
Credit scores and credit worthiness is fluid. That means that your score and your value to a creditor, is always changing. As someone who rebuilt his score from a dismal 420 (due to a bankruptcy in 2008) to a high ranking 814, I learned a lot about credit and credit scores.
Self-awareness is the best defense against any credit problems. These problems can be breaches, identity theft, and wrong or illegal reporting to the credit bureaus. Self-awareness of your credit score and your current credit is the key. The very first thing you need to do is open a CreditKarma.com account. This is a free service that gives you tons of information on your credit. Both Equifax and Transunion report to this service and you can see all your outstanding creditors and your payment history. Self-awareness of your score and situation will not only help you keep from having your identity stolen but it will help you increase your credit score.
The other, and probably the most important, filter you can see on your credit report are the inquiry’s. This is where you can notice if someone has been trying to open credit in your name. If you see an inquiry from a company you do not recognize, you should immediately reach out to that company and find out what is going on.
Be aware, however, that if you are house or car shopping, some of the mortgage and car loan finance people will send your application to several places to help you get the best rate or your approval. This may give you several inquiries on your report that you do not recognize. You can ask your loan representative if they came from him or her before calling the credit company.
Another way to be self-aware, is to log onto your credit card or loan providers website often. I find it troubling that most people only log on to make a payment and that is usually only once a month. Some people have so many transactions, like convenience stores or coffee shops or grocery shopping and eating out that they don’t go over the transactions on their credit card bill. I have known people to be billed for months for a service they never signed up for or didn’t want any more simply because they didn’t even see it on their statement. The same goes for debit cards and bank accounts. I had clients who had drafts taken from their bank accounts and had no idea why these were being taken.
The next best thing you can do to protect your credit and increase your credit score is pay your bills on time. A great way to do this is to pay your credit card bills immediately upon receiving them. Many cards and bills have a “due on” date. Be sure you understand, that date is the last and final date they will apply your payment to the card without charging you a late fee. If you pay on the “due on” date you run the risk of a late fee or a late reporting on your credit report. This is a risk you shouldn’t be willing to take.
Here are some tips to keep you self-aware of your credit.
- Open a creditkarma.com account and log on regularly. At minimum once a month.
- Look at your on-line credit balance and transactions at least once a week. This will help you make sure that there are no unauthorized transactions on your statement
- Go to www.annualcreditreport.com which is the free website offered by a government agreement to get all the information on your credit report. This may have different information than your CreditKarma report and you want to be sure it is accurate as well.
- Pay your loans and credit cards early. This is just another way to be self-aware of your credit. If you are logging on to your credit website, it may force you to look at your statement.
- Call your creditors immediately if you ever see a charge you do not understand or agree with. They will often explain the charge and then give you the opportunity to dispute it. If it is fraud, they will issue you a new card and cancel your former account.
Before any credit breaches, I always assumed that my information was already stolen. Think about it, when you apply for a car loan or a home loan, you write your information on an application. This application has everything a thief needs to steal your identity. Yes, I know that the person in charge of this piece of paper should be responsible for keeping it safe, but do you really think it’s safe? I doubt it.
Many articles are suggesting things like freezing your credit. I won’t tell you not to, but I personally think it is unnecessary and frankly a hassle.
Self-awareness is the key that will help you sleep at night.
Be self-aware and be safe!