Not too long ago, folks were up in arms about the Equifax data breach.
And for a good reason. Something like 145 million Social Security numbers were exposed. That’s panic-inducing.
A recent Credit Sesame survey revealed consumers are in fact concerned, but still aren’t taking action against the massive breach — deemed the worst in U.S. history.
Were You Part of the Equifax Data Breach?
Chances are, you still might not know.
In fact, I didn’t know until a couple of days ago. (Yeah. Boo, hiss at this Penny Hoarder.)
Credit Sesame found that 59% of consumers with excellent credit scores — and 73% with poor credit scores — hadn’t taken the basic step to see if their data could have been affected.
After getting shamed by my editor for not checking, I finally decided to see if my information had indeed been exposed.
Plus, c’mon. The Penny Hoarder had already outlined what I needed to do. It was too easy.
- Step 1: Enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number here.
- Step 2: That’s all.
A screen pops up to let you know whether you could have been impacted.
This is what mine said:
It then encourages you to sign up for its TrustedID Premier program, but I didn’t. I’d rather consider alternatives.
What People Are (or Aren’t) Doing About The Equifax Data Breach
Even if your Social Security number is already floating out there in cyberspace, it doesn’t mean you’re helpless.
There are a few preventive measures worth taking. And they’re easy, says the writer who puts everything off because it’ll “take too much time.”
Let’s Talk About the Credit Freeze
Following the breach, financial gurus encouraged consumers to freeze their credit reports.
But what’s a credit freeze? According to Credit Sesame’s survey, many consumers aren’t quite sure.
Of the 5,500 polled, 18% of those with excellent credit said they didn’t know what a credit freeze was. Neither did 21% of those with poor credit. And even if respondents did know, 29% of those with excellent credit — and 44% with poor credit — didn’t know a credit freeze was even an option.
And overall, 86% of respondents hadn’t put a freeze on their credit.
So here we go.
A credit freeze, as Credit Sesame defines it, is “a process which locks down your credit file and prevents identity thieves and cyber criminals from opening credit in your name.”
Basically, no one can do anything with that information except you.
When you do need access to your credit — for example, when you open a new bank account, sign up for a credit card or apply for a mortgage — you’ll unfreeze, or thaw it, a process that only takes a few hours.
Back in July, I chatted with Steve Weisman, a Bentley University professor and author of fraud and identity theft blog Scamicide. Even before this Equifax mess, he encouraged consumers to keep their credit frozen — unless it was needed.
He described credit freezes as “preventive medicine.”
“This is the single best thing someone can do to protect themselves from being a victim of identity theft,” he said. “Even if your Social Security number was in the hands of an identity thief, you’d still be protected.”
So, yes, after this breach, even if some cybercriminals gets their grimy fingers on your credit score, a credit freeze can still protect you.
And let me add a note on fees.
Credit Sesame also reported that 18% of folks were reluctant to place a freeze on their credit because of the fees involved. That’s true; there are fees if you’re placing a credit freeze on your account as a preventive measure. However, Weisman says it’s typically nothing more than $20.
If you want to learn more about credit freezes — and how easy it is to apply it to your credit — we’ve got more information.
Another (or Additional) Option: Sign Up For Free Alerts
Perhaps one of the reasons I was so reluctant to check the status of the Equifax breach — and other folks who responded in the survey — is because I receive alerts if anything fishy is going on with my report.
With Credit Sesame, I gain free access to my credit score and credit report. I’ve also signed up for alerts, so each month, the service shoots me an email letting me know what’s going on. (This can be adjusted to daily alerts as well.)
If anything weird happens, it notifies me. I also get $50,000 in identity theft insurance.
Again, for free.
So I know if something happens as a result of the breach, my world won’t necessarily come crashing down.