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Tips for Equifax breach victims
A massive data breach at the credit bureau Equifax has left an estimated 143 million Americans at risk of ID theft. The size of the breach means many Cuyahoga County residents will be affected, according to the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs.
Equifax says the breach happened from mid-May through July. It appears hackers accessed information including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license information. A smaller number of consumers – about 209,000 people – may have had hackers access credit card numbers and dispute documents they sent to the bureau to have inaccurate information removed.
"It could be awhile before any of us have enough information to determine how much risk the breach poses for each of us," said Sheryl Harris, Cuyahoga County’s Director of Consumer Affairs. "There are some steps you can take now, but you may need to take additional steps later, as you find out more information about which of your records may have been compromised."
Equifax is offering consumers – whether they are affected by the breach or not – free credit monitoring but the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs recommends consumers wait to get more information about the breach and about this monitoring program before deciding whether to participate.
For now, you should:
- Find whether any of your records were affected by logging onto Equifax’s breach site --www.equifaxsecurity2017.com -- using a secure wi-fi connection. Click on the "potential impact" tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. It appears the website currently does not tell you which of your records may have been accessed, information that you will need to decide what steps to take.
- If the website indicates your records were affected, or if you don’t have computer access, contact Equifax’s toll-free breach hotline at 1-866-447-7559. The hotline is open from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day, including weekends, but many consumers are receiving a busy signal when they call. In our area, it may be better to try early in the morning, when West Coast residents are asleep.
- Visit the FTC’s Identity theft website, https://identitytheft.gov . This website will provide you with a personalized, step-by-step identity theft recovery plan, once you know which records were compromised. You can also browse through id theft recovery steps, which will give you a good idea of what steps you may need to take in the future.
- If you haven’t already frozen your credit reports (you would have a PIN from each bureau if you had), consider doing so now. You can find out more information about credit freezes in Ohio here. While a freeze wouldn’t have protected you from the hack of the credit bureau itself, it does keep ID thieves from establishing new credit in your name.
- If you don’t want to freeze your credit reports, you can put a temporary fraud alert on your files by going to www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling any ONE of the nation’s three major credit bureaus. Since Equifax’s lines are jammed, try calling TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289 or Experian at 1-888-397-3742. The bureaus share fraud alert requests with each other.
- Carefully monitor your credit card and other accounts to make sure there are no fraudulent transactions. You should be doing this anyway.
- If you are worried about account activity, you can to go to the bureaus’ shared site, annualcreditreport.com to get free copies of your credit report from all three bureaus. Look for any accounts you did not open. You can also request copies of your free credit reports by calling 1-877-322-8228.
- If you discover your Social Security number was compromised, you will want to file your income taxes as early as possible, so that an ID thief doesn’t beat you to it.
- Watch for mailed notices from Equifax and make sure you open them. They may have important details for you.
- Keep an eye on news reports. Breach information tends to come out in bits, over time, so stay informed. You also should check the site of our Scam Squad partner, the Federal Trade Commission, at www.ftc.gov for updates.
The Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs will continue monitoring the situation.
The Department of Consumer Affairs’ mission is to make sure people who live or shop in Cuyahoga County get what they pay for.