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September’s un-natural disaster: the Equifax data breach

Hurricane Irma may have distracted Floridians from following another major un-natural disaster: the Equifax breach of nearly half the nation’s most sensitive personal and financial data including social security numbers, birth dates, driver license numbers, financial accounts, you name it. Like a hurricane, it’s impossible to predict precise impacts and you should expect and prepare for the worst. Unfortunately in this case, we may be finding and fixing problems for the rest of our lives.

Equifax is one of the three major credit reporting agencies, the other two are Experian and Transunion.

Do this now:

1 – Set up fraud alerts with each agency.

2 – Consider setting up a credit freeze at each agency also.

A credit freeze locks your data down so that only companies you already do business with can get it. If you’re about to apply for mortgage, new credit accounts or loans, you might want to wait. You may be able to selectively unfreeze for credit applications.

Free freezes may be available. Check the fine print. This is a situation where you may want to hold onto your right to be part of a class action lawsuit. Pay attention or you’ll opt into arbitration without knowing it.

3 – Check your credit report. Use to get free credit report. This really is quick and easy.

You’re legally entitled to get one free credit report from each of the big three agencies every year. Consider getting a report every four months, requesting it from a different agency each time, to get more frequent insight into your credit profile.

4 – Sign up for credit monitoring at each agency. Again, read the fine print.

Equifax is offering “a free year” of monitoring. It should offer free lifetime monitoring since it’s created a lifelong problem for us.

5 – Be extra careful to scrutinize your bank and credit card statements, looking for fraudulent transactions.

6 – If you haven’t already, establish secure login credentials for all financial accounts, including two-step verification.

If you run into headaches with Equifax, check the advice of Ron Lieber, financial columnist with the New York Times. His columns cover several answers to Equifax problems.