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FAQs on the Equifax Breach
||Updated September 27, 2017
For consumers, Equifax’s response to its massive data breach seems a lot like Ohio weather: Wait five minutes and it changes.
Equifax has come under criticism not just for the breach but for its communication with consumers. The breach may have involved names, birthdates and Social Security numbers of up to 143 million Americans.
The burden of protecting themselves has landed squarely on consumers – a task made more difficult because several credit bureaus are using the breach as an excuse to push credit monitoring services.
The Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs has prepared this FAQ to help consumers take steps to protect themselves without undue stress.
Q. How do I find out if hackers accessed my information?
Visit the Equifax breach site -- EquifaxBreach
– Enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number to find out if your information may have fallen into the wrong hands. You can alternatively call Equifax’s breach hotline at 1-866-447-7559. In response to early criticism, Equifax has beefed up staffing and training for reps.
Q. I’ve heard if I go to the equifaxsecurity2017.com, I’ll have to give up my right to sue the Equifax over the data breach. Is that true?
No. Early on, Equifax’s website contained language that would have limited consumers’ rights to take the company to court. Equifax has said it does not intend to enforce that clause for breach victims.
Q. I’ve heard the Equifax site doesn’t work or is telling everyone – even people who make up SSNs -- they’ve been breached. So is it worth checking?
Yes. Our staff tested the site with real info. Some of us were told we were affected. Others of us were told we weren’t, so it appears to us the site is responding correctly to real information.
We urge consumers to check because, if your info was accessed, you’ll want to take steps to safeguard yourself against ID theft.
Q. What should I do if Equifax tells me my records were part of the breach?
We recommend consumers place security freezes on their files at all three credit bureaus.
Under Ohio law, credit bureaus can charge $5 each for a freeze. Currently, Equifax is offering consumers free freezes
of their Equifax credit files ONLY through Nov. 21, 2017. To enroll, visit Equifax’s freeze website
But for freezes to be effective, you’ll need to freeze your files at all three major credit bureaus. That means you need to get a freeze at Experian
, too. Those bureaus charge each person $5 to freeze their files.
Unfortunately, all three bureaus are using the breach as an excuse to push other products to consumers. Ignore the banners offering to “help” you in the wake of the Equifax breach and instead click on the “Credit Report Assistance” tab – they each have one – to get to the security freeze.
If you’re more comfortable requesting a freeze by phone, call:
- Equifax, 1-800-349-9960
- TransUnion, 1-888-909-8872
- Experian, 1-888-397-3742
You can find out more about freezes and how to manage them here.
Q. How does a freeze protect me?
A. Security freezes – also known as credit freezes – let you limit access to your credit reports.
You use a PIN to unlock, or temporarily thaw, your report when you apply for credit. The rest of the time, it’s locked, which keeps ID thieves from being able to obtain credit in your name. (If lenders can’t check your credit history, they won’t issue credit in your name.)
Under Ohio’s freeze law, you’ll pay $5 per credit bureau to freeze your credit reports and $5 to temporarily thaw.
Security freezes – also known as credit freezes – let you limit access to your credit reports. You use a PIN to unlock, or temporarily thaw, your report when you apply for credit. The rest of the time, it’s locked, which keeps ID thieves from being able to obtain credit in your name. (If lenders can’t check your credit history, they won’t issue credit in your name.) Under Ohio’s freeze law, you’ll pay $5 per credit bureau to freeze your credit reports and $5 to temporarily thaw.
Q. If I freeze my credit report, do I have to pay for a thaw to get my free annual credit report?
No. You never have to pay for your free annual credit report if you go through annualcreditreport.com
or 1-877-322-8228, but you may have to provide your PIN.
Q. Aren’t I entitled to free freezes at all three credit bureaus since I’m the victim of a breach?
A. No. Identity theft victims can get free freezes and free thaws, but under Ohio law, an identity theft victim is someone who can show their stolen data was used by a thief – not just taken.
Q. My spouse and I have joint credit. The Equifax site says my records weren’t affected, so can I assume my spouse’s data is also safe?
No. You and your spouse each have separate credit files. Your payments on joint accounts get reported to each bureau twice – once on your report and again on your spouse’s. You’ll both need to check to see if you were affected by the breach.
Of course, this also means that if you opt for a freeze, both of you will need freezes at all three bureaus.
Q. Should I get a freeze for my child?
A. Only people who use credit would have a credit report. If your child doesn’t have a credit card or hasn’t taken out a loan, he or she wouldn’t have a credit report.
Q. Several members of my family were affected by the breach. Can I get freezes for them all at the same time?
Yes, but if you experience “spinning wheel” delays – or want to head them off – freeze one person’s credit report at each of the three sites and then clear your browsing history and cache before you enter data for the next person.
Also, you're going to need to answer security questions to place freezes at some sites, so make sure the person is nearby to help you with the correct answers.
To avoid confusion, keep a separate record of each person’s PINs and note which credit bureau it’s to be used at. Make sure your family members have paper copies of their PINs or know where to find them. Replacing a lost PIN costs $5.
Q. Why should I pick a freeze over credit monitoring?
A. Credit monitoring tends to tell you after the fact that someone tried to use your info to establish credit. Freezes proactively stop lenders from accessing your files – which makes it tough for ID thieves to open accounts in your name.
And over time, credit monitoring is more expensive, because you pay an annual fee. Freezes are set it and forget it. You only pay for a temporary thaw when you apply for new credit – and for most of us, that doesn’t happen that often.
Q. What if I don’t want a freeze?
Equifax’s credit monitoring is free for a year, so if you aren’t inclined to get freezes at this time, you may want to opt into the monitoring program instead. Equifax has announced that it will not automatically reenroll (and bill) you when the year of credit monitoring expires, so you can decide later whether to continue it.
You also could put a free temporary fraud alert on your credit reports. Fraud alerts warn lenders to call you if they get a credit application in your name – so they aren’t as strong as freezes, but they’re better than nothing. Equifax’s fraud alert line is 1-800-525-6285 but if you have trouble getting through, try calling TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289.The bureaus share fraud alert requests with each other, so you only need to call one to alert all three.
Q. What else can I do to protect myself?
A. Pay attention to your accounts, statements and mail:
- Carefully monitor your credit and bank accounts for fraudulent transactions. Sometimes data thieves make a small purchase to “test” an account first, so pay attention even to small-dollar transactions you don’t recognize.
- Use the strongest passwords on all your accounts and talk to your bank about two-factor identification and phone alerts for transactions.
- Check your credit reports annually so you can spot errors, accounts you didn’t open, debt collection items that aren’t yours or inquiries from lenders you never contacted, which could be signs of identity theft. You do not need to thaw a security freeze to request your report, but you may need to provide your PIN. Request copies of your free credit reports by calling 1-877-322-8228 or by going to annualcreditreport.com
- Watch for debt collection notices or statements for accounts you didn’t open.
- File your taxes as soon as possible. Tax ID thieves may try to file ahead of you using your SSN and demand inflated refunds. Although it won’t keep you from getting a tax refund owed to you, it can delay your refund. That potential delay means you should avoid taking out an advance or loan against your tax refund.
- Visit identitytheft.gov, an online tool created by the Federal Trade Commission, to get a step-by-step recovery plan. The FTC has info specific to the Equifax breach, so it’s worth checking back as you get additional info.
- Keep abreast of news reports and check in occasionally for updates at https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.
- Watch for mailed notices from Equifax and make sure you open them. They may have important details for you.
- Avoid breach-related scams, such as callers who pretend to be Equifax personnel trying to “help” you deal with a security breach. Never give personal information such as your SSN or account numbers to someone who calls you.
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.