Do not try to frivolously sue a $17B company
Step Number 1.0
Relax. Your info isn’t likely to be used unless you lose the lottery I talk about later. And nobody is playing the lottery until about 90 days from now. So relax. But take it seriously. This is still important.
Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the United States, was breached and over 140,000,000 people had their entire credit history stolen. Credit history includes your Social Security Number, past addresses, all previously held accounts, all inquired accounts, any bankruptcies within the last seven years, and more.
How do I know if I was affected?
Are you an American adult that has ever held or inquired about a credit card, loan, car, bank account, cell phone account, electric service, water service, internet service, a security clearance, most jobs, most schools, most apartment complexes, or renting a house? Congratulations! You’re affected! I’m hearing a lot of “Well, if you ever did X…” Or “If you ever signed anything with this fine print…”
Nope. If you’ve ever applied for anything financial related in the United States then Equifax has been spying on you. Not like Big Brother, but Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian spy on you via financial history which every lender and creditor in the nation sends to them.
When did I consent to this?
You didn’t. Shame, but that’s the reality. It was likely hidden in the fine print of the first checking account you tried to open or when you inquired about buying a car but let’s be honest – it isn’t consensual regardless. You have no choice because it is pretty much impossible to actually live so off the grid you’ve never had any credit history. So you’re stuck with the rest of us.
How is this different than other breaches?
A lot of people brought up the US Office of Personnel Management Breach, or Target, or Yahoo, or PlayStation Network. This one is not very similar to those at all. The closest you’re getting in past examples is OPM. Here’s why: Target, Yahoo, and PSN don’t keep track of SSNs. They don’t keep track of every bill you’ve ever paid. They don’t keep track of everything you’ve ever thought about buying through financing or credit card. Target, Yahoo, and PSN’s biggest damages were your Debit or Credit Information being compromised. Big deal; cancel the card and get a new one. With Equifax, we can’t do that. You can theoretically request a new SSN but that request is not likely to be answered, especially on this scale. OPM was the only one similar to this, but that only affected government employees and it was stolen most likely by the Chinese Government. Fortunately for us, probably to spy on us rather than ruin our lives.
So what happens now that my information has been stolen?
Well now you get to play the anti-lottery. 140,000,000+ people, virtually every adult in the United States, has been entered into a lottery of epic proportions. Only in this case you don’t want to win. What does this mean for you? Well, it means if you have luck as bad as or worse than mine you ought to be concerned. Is the chance of you being the unlucky loser likely? Nope. But you sure as hell don’t want to be.
What happens if I lose this lottery?
Then you get to spend literally years fighting to prove to everyone that you are the real you and not the identity thief. During this fight you will not likely be eligible to do anything that requires credit – no cars, no house, no loans, maybe even no utilities or home rentals. If you don’t have family to fall back on for a few years in this scenario then you should be the utmost concerned because this will make your life a living hell for 3-4 years.
How can I improve my chances?
This is where we get to your actual LifeProTip. Here are the processes you should undertake immediately if it applies to you.
1) Get a copy of your credit report today.
*If you can. The systems have been down because this breach made the news for 4 days, and all of us are killing their systems. If you can’t do the site, try again later. If no luck, use the mail.
Regardless of freeze, alert, or regular credit monitoring get your current credit report to keep on file so you can identify anything new that shouldn’t be there in the future.
Forget CreditKarma, Forget FreeCreditReport, Forget all that, you want the real stuff.
The Federal Government of the United States requires each of those three credit agencies give you a free copy of your credit report every year and this is the only authorized site to actually collect on that. Usually I’d suggest not getting them all at once but if you can’t afford to keep paying for all this then go ahead and pull all three at once. If you move around a lot the website may not like you very much. Jump through its stupid hoops to get it mailed if you have to. The credit agencies have to honor your request. Document this well.
If you don’t believe me see any of the following links. This is the only real free credit report site.
Credit Karma et al are not free. They might not charge you, but somebody is paying them to do that service. Keep that in mind.
2) Freeze your credit.
Call the three credit agencies, the same terrible enterprise that allowed this to happen, and put a freeze on your credit. What does this do? Well, it freezes your credit. Nobody, including yourself, can inquire into your credit for any reason until this freeze is unfrozen.
This does not affect current accounts! Your current loans will be fine. Your score will still go up and down accordingly.
If you are a student or have some other situation where you need to have frequent checks of your credit you can probably safely wait up to 3 months OR initiate a Fraud Alert instead. See the next step.
Does this cost money?
Fees vary by your state. Equifax is waving fees currently.
Does unfreezing cost money? Isn’t this a pain in the ass?
Yes, but only slightly. It will cost about $30 to unfreeze all three when you need to finance something but here’s the bright side: $30 and a few minutes on the phone with an automated system is a hell of a lot easier than the hell that will be your identity being stolen. And besides, if you can’t afford the $30 and a day of preparation before financing something – you probably shouldn’t be financing anything anyway. And I’ll tell you a little later how to get it back.
Ultimately the fee varies by State.
Does this affect my credit score?
Nope. Your credit will go on as usual, but nothing new can be added or inquired during the freeze. You will still be able to use your credit card.
Here are the phone numbers to initiate a credit freeze
· TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872
· Equifax: 1-800-349-9960
· Experian: 1 888 397 3742
You must call all three!
You can do this online, but Equifax’s site has been crashing nonstop since the breach was announced and the system doesn’t like people like me that move around a lot. I’d suggest using the phone. It is an automated system so don’t worry about interacting with a person.
What is to stop the credit thief from lifting my freeze?
A long PIN that will be supplied to you when you freeze it. This is pretty much it so make damned sure not to lose that. If there is another breach like this while you have the freeze, unfreeze it ASAP, then freeze it again to get a new PIN. Yes, this costs money. It costs less than having your identity stolen. And you might be able to get it back.
TransUnion allows you to set your own PIN, Experian will send it in the mail, Equifax will set it for you and give it to you over the phone after your freeze is initiated. IMPORTANT! Do not hang up until you have it written down! You can make it replay the message over and over. Listen to the automated prompts.
Equifax’s phone system may go in and out. RECORD YOUR CALLS or listen very carefully. IIRC the * button will make it repeat, but listen to be sure!
3) Initiate a Fraud Alert If you don’t do a credit freeze, at least do this.
4) Opt out of prescreened offers of credit while you’re at it.
This incident is probably gonna inspire you to get off the grid a bit more. You tired of junk mail? Well here’s how you reduce a ton of it:
Call the number or click the link I embedded into it. Either way will work. This will remain for five years at a time but if you return the signed Permanent Opt-Out Election Form to each credit bureau it will remain forever.
P.O. Box 919
Allen, TX 75013
Name Removal Option
P.O. Box 505
Woodlyn, PA 19094
P.O. Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374-0123
Innovis Consumer Assistance
P.O. Box 495
Pittsburgh, PA 15230-0495
Alright. Done. Now how do I get some of this money back? What is our legal recourse? How do we punish Equifax?
I want you to do something right now while you’re angry. I want you to type up a clear, polite, but strongly worded email. Prepare it as if you’re sending it to the President himself.
Will this get my money back?
No. Not yet. But let’s get started on that.
Your legal recourse comes down to small claims court, personal formal suit, or class action.
For all of these cases DO NOT ENROLL IN EQUIFAX’S “IDENTITY PROTECTION”. We don’t trust these people anymore, remember?
Your legal recourse comes down to how you were affected.
Consult a lawyer.
Consult a lawyer. Do not try to do this completely on your own. Even with Small Claims at least consult one first.
File your tax return as soon as possible from here on out. With your credit frozen and a fraud alert in place your biggest risk of direct impact is going to come from a fraudulent tax return. Unfortunately, the powers that be at the IRS don’t bother to confirm identity on tax filings except for a SSN. If somebody files with your SSN you will not be able to file. You will have to dispute it. Hound your employers to get your W-2 ASAP.
If your identity is stolen and used this way TurboTax keeps a webpage to make fighting this battle a little easier.
The IRS will never contact you by phone or email to verify your identity! However, if you contact them they will be willing to verify over the phone. If you get a call from anyone claiming to be the IRS for this purpose hang up, look up the IRS number, and call them instead.
Is there any part of my identity that is secure?
Our birth certificates and passports are about all we’ve got left right now.
If you only have one copy of your birth certificate look up your County of Birth’s rules on requesting a new one. This will probably cost about $20 as well. The birth certificate is one of the end-all-be-all points of our identity. Keep them in locked and fire proof boxes. Worst case scenario for you is having your identity stolen and then having a fire take these documents. Make sure both can’t happen at the same time at least.
Since it relies on birth certificates I highly suggest reading further on Passports.
If you are a Naturalized American then do the same as the Birth Certificate folks, but with your citizenship documents. A birth certificate from your country of birth certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
If you don’t have one look into getting a Passport. This will prevent one from being made in your name with your birth certificate in the future, may help you prove your identity if necessary, and you can also travel to Europe, Canada, and Mexico without a visa in most cases. Win-win-win.
Passports use various methods for confirming your identity but the lynchpin is your birth certificate. You’ll have to send a 2″x2″ photo and a certified original copy of your birth certificate off the State Department to get your Passport. The photo can be done at a UPS Store or CVS or similar places and costs like $5. The Passport fee itself is closer to $100.
The State Department will send back your birth certificate when they are done with it but I would suggest having more than one original on hand. Photocopies are not good enough for either case.
This breach is huge, don’t let yourself become a victim. If you have ever had or heard of anyone’s identity being stolen you know how much of a pain it will be. Contact your lawyer if you feel as though you need legal recourse. This breach will affect most Americans for years to come unless our government steps in to protect us but this is the best thing you can do to protect yourself for now.
Most of the information in this post can be attributed to the great work of Velostodon on Reddit.