Like millions of Americans — 143 million to be precise — I’m still hacked off about the breach of Equifax credit files. The company’s cybersecurity and response was appalling and several Equifax execs conveniently retired and sold company stock.
Worse yet, according to Bloomberg, Equifax may have known as early as March that its systems were breached.
Since the news broke more than a week ago, the Federal Trade Commission said it was probing the matter, along with several state attorney generals. Since the credit reporting business is loosely regulated, Congress needs to step in.
Although you can request fraud alerts through your credit card companies, thieves may still be able to steal your credit files.
Other than those actions, what can you do? I’ve surveyed a variety of insights by credit and cybersecurity experts:
Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg
— Keep Getting Information. Both Equifax and regulators are looking into this breach and there are daily updates. Go to the Equifax site to get security updates.
You can also put a credit freeze on your Equifax file and other credit bureaus, although the horse may well be out of the barn and thieves may use your information more than a year from now.
— Sign up for Equifax’s Credit Monitoring and Freeze. I know what you’re thinking: Why should I deal with this company after what’s happened? Well, they have to clean up this mess — it’s far from over — but they are making some attempts to right the boat.
Here’s what my friend Ilyce Glink of Best Money Moves had to say (and I agree with her):
"You should sign up for the free credit report monitoring and ID theft production Equifax is offering. Why? Because its free, its as good a product as any on the market, and because you might as well take advantage of this free offering while you can get it rather than paying for something else from someone else. Whether or not your information was exposed, you can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services."
I signed up. It’s worth a try if it deters cyber-robbers from purloining your personal data.
— If you see something, say something. Keep an eye on your credit files — and your credit card statements. When I was the victim of identity theft recently — my business credit card number was stolen and used — I got a fraud alert.
Although the fraud alert flagged one charge, it missed five others. I had to read my credit card statement and call my bank to tell them those items were fraudulent.
Don’t assume banks will be on top of identity theft issues, either, even if they offer fraud alerts. Those fraudulent charges I mentioned above had the names of the people who stole my credit information, but the bank’s computers and fraud experts didn’t notice that, even when I pointed that out during a phone call!
Worse yet, the bank’s customer service rep, sticking to her script, asked me if I was "the authorized user of my credit card" and said I would have to wait a month to get a credit for the bogus expenses. That didn’t work for me.
Despite that absurdity, I was able to get rid of more than $1,000 in fraudulent charges. The bottom line is that you don’t have to pay for anything your didn’t charge, although it’s always aggravating fixing credit issues.
Better yet, get a copy of your credit file. You’re entitled to one free copy annually. You can order one here.