By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the Equifax breach that exposed the social security numbers and other sensitive information of 143 million people.
After deafening public outcry, the company agreed to suspend fees for those wishing to freeze their credit. But today, things took a disastrous turn for the company, and also for the other major credit bureaus.
As reported by NBC News, Wednesday afternoon, all three major credit reporting agencies gave intermittent error messages preventing consumers from filing requests to have their credit frozen in reaction to the breach.
From NBC News:
“Equifax’s website said “System Currently Unavailable – Error 500” and suggested consumers try contacting the other credit bureaus.
“At one point, TransUnion’s website couldn’t be accessed at all. Then it put up an error page featuring a stock photo of a model sitting at a computer, alongside the caption, “The website is temporarily unavailable. Please check back later.”
“Experian’s website simply says, “Loading…””
While service eventually returned for some, the outrage has been further fueled. Some were able to get through by phone, though many reported that the support people who answered the phones at the credit bureaus couldn’t answer questions about what to do.
Some have even wondered if the big three credit bureaus are intentionally putting up roadblocks to avoid losing money by being able to run credit reports for corporate clients at will, though this is unlikely as consumers have state and federal rights to do things like freezing their credit to protect themselves which would prevent these companies from shutting down their systems to prevent such actions.
So once the error messages are gone and things are functional again, what should you do to protect yourself from Equifax’s breach? And, yes, if you haven’t already, you do need to protect yourself with this one.
According to CNET, here’s what you need to do to protect yourself:
- Enroll in Equifax’s identity protection program, Trusted ID, which is being offered to anyone who wants to enroll. Be aware though, if you sign up for the program, you waive your right to participate in a class-action lawsuit against Trusted ID, though it doesn’t prevent you from participating in lawsuits related to the cyber attack.
- Check your credit reports. More than three months have passed since when the breach may have started and now, and a lot can happen in three months, so it’s a good idea to look through your credit report for anything suspicious. The U.S. government guarantees everyone can access a free credit report from each of the big three credit bureaus, and you can get them here.
- Freeze your credit. But try tomorrow considering that each of the three major credit bureaus’ websites were down today. Freezing your credit ensures that your credit can’t be pulled at will in case someone masquerading as you attempts to open an account in your name. When you’re ready to unfreeze it, you’ll simply use the PIN you got when you froze your credit, and you’ll be good to go.
- Set a fraud alert. A fraud alert is another way to make it difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in your name. When one is set, credit card companies will be required to verify your identity before an account can be opened. To set a fraud alert, contact any one of the three major credit bureaus.
- Repeat the process for your loved ones. Equifax isn’t notifying those whose information was stolen, so check with your loved ones to make sure they know what to do to keep their credit safe.
- Watch out come tax season. Identity thieves can use stolen SSNs to file fraudulent tax returns and receive refunds, and many victims find our they’ve been targeted when they go to file their taxes. One way to prevent this is to file early. Alternatively, the IRS does have an easy-to-follow guide on tax fraud, available here.