Protecting ourselves after the Equifax breach

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My son’s identity was stolen. Getting that all straightened out was a long nightmare. So when news hit last week that 143 million of us had our personal information compromised by raiders who hacked into Atlanta-based Equifax Corp., a major credit-reporting bureau, the shock waves really reverberated in our house.

To review, Equifax announced the massive breach earlier this month. Remarkably, it was Equifax’s second breach this year. Bloomberg reported that an earlier breach happened in March. This latest debacle occurred in July, albeit Equifax failed to let any of us know about it for six weeks!

The disclosure of this second major breach will trigger at least two congressional hearings in the weeks ahead. Even more, there also will be federal investigations of reports that company executives sold an unusually large amount of company stock shortly after the latest hack was discovered. Really?

Meanwhile, 143 million of us are vulnerable as never before. The question is: What should we do about it? Here is one simple thing all of us can do to protect ourselves. You should consider encouraging employees to think about doing the same.

First, it’s highly recommended that we get credit reports from the major credit-tracking agencies — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — to quickly check on any recent or unusual activity. These reports are available free once each year from www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

Second, after doing the first step, putting on a credit, or security freeze is worth serious consideration. Freezing your credit is a strong line of defense. A credit freeze is designed to prevent credit, loans and services from being approved in your name without your consent. It essentially bars credit bureaus from releasing your information in response to any new credit inquiry. It shuts down the all-important credit-check process, but it does not affect your credit score.

A credit freeze is much better than any “credit alert" because the alert notifies you only after someone has accessed or tried to access your account. Big difference. Once a freeze is in effect, only creditors that already have a financial relationship with you can access your credit report. Only you can remove the freeze whenever you deem it necessary.

Placing a freeze is not free. Fees vary from state to state and range from about $5 to $10. There are also may be a fee when you want to lift the freeze. You can see fees by state here.

Equifax, however, has waived all fees for initiating a credit freeze until early October, so if you opt to do it, do it now. Go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. You’ll have to provide some personal information, such as your Social Security number, address, email and phone. At this point, all that information and much more is already floating out there, anyway.

Bottom line: Nearly half of us may have had our personal information stolen, including names, Social Security numbers, addresses, dates of birth and more. If my son’s experience dealing with it all is any indicator, it’s important to seriously consider being proactive now.

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