On Thursday, September 8, Equifax (one of the nation's three major credit reporting agencies) announced a cybersecurity incident that could potentially impact approximately 143 million U.S. consumers and almost half a million Mainers, according to the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce. Criminals gained access to certain files, the information in which primarily includes names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, as well as other information. When taking into consideration those under the age of 18 who are likely without a credit file, there is a 2 in 3 likelihood your personal information was exposed in the Equifax breach.
Although Equifax has found no evidence of unauthorized activity in their core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases, you may want to consider learning more by visiting their web site at https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/ for general information and using their tool to check whether Equifax believes your information may have been compromised.
If you believe that you may have been a victim of Equifax's data breach or are at risk of being a victim and you haven't taken any action, consider one or more of the following options.
90-Day Initial Fraud Alert
With an Initial Fraud Alert, when you or someone else attempts to open a credit account in your name, increase the credit limit on an existing account, or obtain a new card on an existing account, the lender must take steps to verify that you have authorized the request. You can place an Initial Fraud Alert on your credit file with any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. An Initial Fraud Alert is only effective for 90 days, and you will have to manually renew your alert at the expiration of the 90 days if you think your credit profile is still at risk.
A Security Freeze prevents anyone but you from viewing your credit report. Freezing your credit report means no one can access it or make changes to it. For example, if you apply for an auto loan, the lender won't be able to check your credit until you unfreeze your account. To see if a Security Freeze is available in your state, what your state requires, how to request it, and what fees may apply (Maine is a free state), click here.
A Security Freeze is a much more permanent solution than an Initial Fraud Alert, so please be sure to review the process at any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, Transunion) as well as Innovis before initiating a Security Freeze.
Whether you choose a temporary option such as an Initial Fraud Alert or the more permanent option of a Security Freeze is a decision only you can make. Please also keep in mind that a Fraud Alert or Security Freeze on your profile will not protect your spouse's credit file from a possible breach. Either way, please continue to check your credit report regularly by accessing your free annual report here or by purchasing an identity theft solution such as LifeLock, IdentityForce, ID Watchdog, or Credit Sesame.
Unfortunately, identity theft is something we all need to take seriously, and incidents of this type cannot be ignored. We hope you found this information helpful and encourage you to remain diligent about protecting your information.
David Hanson & Carl Hanson, CFP®